VILLIERS de lisle ADAM
HIS LIFE AND WORKS
VILLIERS DE L'lSLE ADAM.
VILLIERS de 1'Isle ADAM
HIS LIFE AND WORKS
from the French of
Vicomte Robertldu Pontavice de Heussey
By Lady Mary Loyd
All rights reserved.
THE EVER BLESSED MEMORY
OF THE UNKNOWN INDIVIDUAL
WHO FIRST INTRODUCED ME TO
THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE FRENCH LANGUAGE,
IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
BY MARY LOYD.
TO THE READER.
HE writings of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam are so little known in this
country, that it may not be out
of place, before the adventurous
reader embarks on the perusal of the follow-
ing recollections, to endeavour, in the most
cursory manner, to give some details concern-
The most stinging satire and the most
radiant fancy ; the keenest appreciation of
nature, especially in her gloomier and more
mysterious moods, and a constant endeavour
to enforce the immutable truths of religion
and morality, and the inevitable results of
their contravention, run through all his
stories. And nothing more genuinely witty
can be imagined than some of his sketches
viii TO THE READER.
of the more peculiarly Bohemian side of
Parisian life. The characteristic of Villiers'
work which must strike the thoughtful stu-
dent most, is its magnificent thoroughness.
Every one of his tales bears the impress, not
only of laborious preparation, but of the most
conscientious elaboration. So that every
word, as it finally stands, is indispensable to
the true comprehension of the author's mean-
ing. And this meaning, again, is almost
always of the highest; the satire, grave or gay,
good-humoured or severe, always tending to
the support of what is true and noble, and to
the punishment (or, at all events, the dis-
countenance) " of wickedness and vice."
The poet's immediate friends may have
blamed and deplored the extreme Bohemian-
ism into which his needy circumstances drove
him. We, who inherit the result of his life-
work a work accomplished in the face of
constant difficulty and discouragement can
have no room for any feeling but admiration
for the man who never published a line with-
out giving it the highest polish he was capable
TO THE READER. ix
No modern writer, with the exception,
perhaps, of Edgar Poe, whom Villiers so
passionately admired, has his power of digni-
fying the horrible. And none, I believe (not
even Pierre Loti, that master of the art of
portraying nature, to the extent of making
his readers actually feel the heat of the sun
and the damp of the fog he describes), excels
him in calling up, and in the fewest words,
the beauty of an autumn sunset, the dreariness
of a wild winter night, the horror of a long
corridor in one of the prisons of the Spanish
Inquisition, 1 or the exotic bloom of certain
phases of existence in Paris. 2 Brevity, they
say, is the soul of wit. Truly, in this case,
brevity is the strength of style, and it is not
easy, on a first perusal, to realize the con-
centrated power this same well-considered
brevity gives to that of Villiers de 1'Isle
Of his life I will say nothing. Its story
is unfolded in the pages which succeed this
1 " La Torture par 1'Esperance."
2 "Le Convive des dernieres Fetes," "Antonia,"
x TO THE READER.
note. A sad enough story it is, full of
struggle and failure, of brilliant hopes and
bitter deceptions. The history of a great
soul, full of that peculiar simplicity and un-
fitness for coping with everyday cares which
so often accompany genius ; and with that
sad and too common close, so eternally dis-
honouring to the public which turns a deaf
ear to the living charmer, charm he never so
wisely death in an hospital ward, followed
by paeans of admiration when the brave
heart that had vainly ached for just one
responsive throb was stilled in the silence
of the grave.
There is a growing interest among culti-
vated people on this side of the Channel in
the extraordinary development of literature
in its most brilliant form on the other, and
I feel convinced that this sketch of the life
and works of one who, neglected and de-
preciated as he was to within a few months
of his premature death by all but a select
few, is now acclaimed as one of the chief
glories of modern literary France, will be
heartily welcomed by the many sympathetic
TO THE READER. xi
English admirers of our gifted neighbours,
and that the knowledge they may thereby
acquire of the great French writer's life and
labour will inspire them with a desire to be-
come acquainted with the remarkable group
of tales, plays, and novels on which his
HE author of the following recol-
leclions has passed into the silent
country while the sheets of this
translation were being prepared
for the press. The thought that his book
was about to be presented to the English
public helped to cheer the last months of a
long and trying illness. And to that public
I submit these pages, in the confident belief
that those who have the patience to read
them will share my admiration for the grace-
ful talent of their author, and will regret with
me that one who might yet, if he had been
spared, have done much invaluable work in
literature and literary research, should have
been cut off prematurely, " in the flower of
Eeqtmgfcat in pace,
First meeting Family ties Illustrious origin of
Villiers Genealogy of the family of L'Isle Adam
The old Emigre's Good King Louis XVIII.
and M. de Villiers Motto and coat-of-arms of
the family The Curd of Ploumilliau Villiers at
the parsonage " L'Intersigne " His parents
Genealogy of the De Carfort Aunt Kerinou
Peculiarities of the Marquis de ITsle Adam
His golden dream The inheritance seeker
The treasure seeker
Birth of Villiers de ITsle Adam His baptism
His childhood Stolen by mountebanks School
life St. Brieuc Laval Rennes His first poem
His early portrait " L' Amour et la Mort "
Elegy Literary plans Family devotion and
tenderness " Our Matthias " Departure for
Paris The reign of the common-place in literature
The poets The defenders of the Beautiful
"Le Parnasse Contemporain " "Les Parnas-
siens " Catulle Mendes and the " Revue Fan-
taisiste " Triumphal entry of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam First Poems Friendships Ste"phane
Mallarme and Leon Dierx " Claire Lenoir "
Appearance of Dr. Triboulat Bonhomet A few
words touching this personage " Le Roman
d'une Nuit," by Catulle Mendes Death of the
" Revue Fantaisiste "The Blue Dragon Hotel
The Rue de Douai Villiers de 1'Isle Adam,
according to Frangois Coppe"e 37
Early influences Charles Baudelaire My father
His relations with Villiers Their intimacy
The Hotel d'Orleans Literary and philosophical
gatherings Le"on Cladel Villiers and the
Hegelian philosophy "Isis" The Princess
Tullia Fabriana Preface Eccentricities of style
The original of Doctor Bonhomet Doctor C.
"Ellen" and " Morgane " Sensations of
loneliness The Marquis de ITsle Adam con-
tinues at Paris the course of his profitable
financial operations The poisoner, Comte
Courty de la Pommerais The apartment in the
Rue St. Honore" The marquis Aunt Kerinou
Matthew's decorations 52
The legend of the hoaxer hoaxed The succession
to the throne of Greece Villiers de ITsle Adam
a candidate for the throne " Le Lion de
Numidie " " The Moor of Venice " Nemesis
An imperial audience The Marquis and
Baron Rothschild The Due de Bassano and
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam The last aft of the
comedy A poet's conclusion Death of Aunt
Kerinou Separation 70
My return to Paris The Hotel d'Orleans My
search for Villiers Our reunion The earlier
stages of his lawsuit The historical drama of
"Perrinet Leclerc" Paul Cleves, director of
the Porte St. Martin Theatre The Marechal
Jean de ITsle Adam, according to Messrs.
Lockroy and Anicet Bourgeois Villiers' fury
Letters to the press A summons A memo-
randum Intervention of M. de Villiers Provo
cation A duel arranged Settlement on the
ground Result of the action Biographer's
reservations Documentary evidence .... 87
Le Pin Galant, near Bordeaux Arrival of Villiers
with his play "The New World" The Ameri-
can centenary competition The character of
Mrs. Andrews The legend of Ralph Evandale . 116
Villiers' rage against the members of the jury
Dramatic scene at the house of Victor Hugo
Villiers leaves Paris The Bordeaux theatres
Godefrin, director of the Theatre Frangais An
extraordinary reading Little Mdlle. Aimee
Madame Aimee Tessandier 131
Restful days The real Villiers Villiers and the
fair sex Talks about bygone days Charles
Baudelaire His true nature His strange home-
life Jeanne Duval Edgar Poe Richard Wag-
ner " Axel " The Cabala and the occult
sciences Villiers' religious sentiments Quota-
tions " L'Eve Future " 144
A metamorphosis An ambitious pastry-cook
Appearance of the newspaper, " La Croix et
1'Epee " Its political, artistic, and literary pro-
gramme Lord E W . His strange
suicide The wax figure A nocturnal conversa-
tion The American engineer and his master,
Edison First conception of "L'Eve Future"
Villiers de ITsle Adam and Thomas Alva
Villiers' absent-mindedness His terrible careless-
ness His departure from Bordeaux Godefrin's
despair A year later Bohemian poverty A
justification Want of money Villiers' diffi-
culties His pride His artistic conscientious-
ness Drumont's book Villiers and the young
Jew A good answer Villiers' manner of life
His midnight wanderings His dislike of day-
light Villiers and Anatole France 165
1879 The Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Roche-
chouart The poet's room His extraordinary
indifference Leon Dierx " La DeVouee "
Strange habits Villiers in the street The
Boulevard Montmartre Nocturnal declama-
tions Villiers as a composer Two operas,
" Esmeralda " and " Prometheus " Melomania
Villiers as a musical performer A strange
First introduction of Wagner and Villiers at the
house of Charles Baudelaire Failure of "Tann-
hauser " at the Paris Opera in 1861 Portrait
and character of Richard Wagner His friends
and champions His intimacy with Villiers
Reminiscences of his youth and early poverty
Augusta Holmes Villiers' visit to Triebchen
The "Rheingold" at Munich Villiers de
1'Isle Adam's artistic confession of faith . . . 202
The marquis and the marquise Villiers' filial ten-
derness A monomania for speculation A letter
from the marquis Villiers' contributions to the
press The "Figaro" "La Republique des
Lettres " Catulle Mendes J. K. Huysmans
The "Contes Cruels" Two quotations Villiers'
high spirits His loss of illusion A study by
M. G. Guiches Villiers as a talker and a mimic
Some unpublished traits of Dr. Triboulat
Bonhomet Bonhomet the commander-in-chief
Bonhomet the ermine-hunter Bonhomet ful-
filling the letter of the Scriptures Bonhomet's
true adventures at Bayreuth The political
opinions of Villiers de ITsle Adam An un-
expected toast A rupture 219
Fragments of a journal kept in 1879 A woman of
fashion bewitched Villiers and Mar Yvonne
A mystery Villiers a candidate at the elections
of the Conseil General Opinions of the press
Meetings The plans of the future councillor
My departure from Paris Our separation
Description of Villiers in 1880 by G. Guiches . 237
Closing years Birth of a son Villiers' widow
Little Totor and his father Success of the
" Contes Cruels " Appearance of " L'Eve
Future" in the "Gaulois" The "Vie Moderne"
The murderous treatment of the " Nouveau
Monde " at the Theatre des Nations The deaths
of the marquis and the marquise J. K. Huysmans
"A Rebours " His opinion of Villiers' work
" Triboulat Bonhomet " " Propos d'au-dela"
" Akedysseril " " L' Amour Supreme "
" L'Eve Future " Lectures in Belgium Return
to Paris Prosperity " Histoires Insolites "
" Nouveaux Contes Cruels" "Axel" Sick-
ness Letter from J. K. Huysmans, detailing the
last moments and the death of Villiers Con-
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VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
First meeting Family ties Illustrious origin of Villiers
Genealogy of the family of L'Isle Adam The old
Emigres Good King Louis XVIII. and M. de
Villiers Motto and coat-of-arms of the family
The Cure of Ploumilliau Villiers at the parsonage
"L'Intersigne" His Parents Genealogy of the De
Carforts Aunt Kerinou Peculiarities of the Mar-
quis de 1'Isle Adam His golden dream The
inheritance seeker The treasure seeker.
NE Thursday morning in Novem-
ber, 1858, I was in the dining-
room of my father's house at
Fougeres. I was eating my sad
and solitary luncheon under the eye of a cross
old nurse ; and my heart swelled as I looked
2 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
at the cheerful winter sun outside the window
panes, and thought of my brothers, more
fortunate than myself, who were frolicking
through the leafless woods which so pictu-
resquely crown the village of St. Germain.
There my grandfather lived, in an old manor-
house amongst the trees, and every Thurs-
day, according to custom, my family spent the
day with him. This time I had been left
behind, as a punishment for some childish
misdemeanour or some ill-learnt lesson.
Suddenly I heard the rumble of a carriage
on the rough pavement of our street, gene-
rally as silent as the grave, and soon I saw a
hired chaise stop before our windows. I
know not why my heart began to beat so fast
when the bell (pulled by a vigorous hand)
clanged noisily. A moment after, the door
of the dining-room opened, and a fair young
man with a large head, and wrapped in rich
furs, rushed in like a whirlwind. He vaulted
lightly over the table at which I was sitting,
and lifting me up, before I had recovered
from my astonishment, he kissed me heartily,
saying, " Good day, my little man you don't
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 3
know me ! I am your cousin Matthias ! "
But I did know him well ! For long he had
filled my childish imagination, haunted already
by the demon of literature. How often had
I listened open-mouthed, forgetful of my
plate, while my father recounted at the family
board the adventures, the oddities, the traits
of genius of Cousin Matthias! True, I un-
derstood but vaguely what my father meant,
but it had for me all the mysterious charm of
the unknown. Meanwhile the unexpected
guest had asked for food, having come straight
from Paris, without warning, as was his way.
I see him now, opposite me, eating heartily,
asking me questions, laughing at my prattle
(he had put me at my ease at once), and stop-
ping every now and then to push back with
his hand a thick lock of fair hair which kept
falling over his eyes.
" You know," said he to my astounded
attendant, " I am off to St. Germain, the little
chap with me. When / come, all punish-
ments are stopped."
Willy nilly, she had to wrap me in my
cloak and comforter ! Ten minutes later
4 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Cousin Matthias and I, seated in the little
hired gig, were bowling along the frosty road
which led from the town of Fougeres to the
village of St. Germain.
Such was my first never-to-be-forgotten
meeting with Philip Augustus Matthias de
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, then in all the bloom
of his youth and the first blush of his won-
derful genius his brow and eyes radiant
with those beautiful illusions, those glorious
dreams, which attended his entrance into life,
which never abandoned him in his saddest
hours, and whose melancholy phantoms
hovered over the hospital bed on which he
died, high-spirited to the last, hopeful and
As has been seen, our families were kin.
But I think that the cousinship between
Villiers and my father, and later, by inheri-
tance, between Villiers and myself, was more
intellectual than anything else. The family
bond which unites us seems to me very slight.
It should be sought, I think, in the alliance
of both our families with that of De Kersauson.
But that is little matter. What is far more
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 5
urgent is to establish the absolutely incon-
testable nobility of the origin of the great
writer. In his lifetime a sort of mysterious
legendary haze gathered round his personality,
and I fancy he rather enjoyed deepening the
fog. At all events, such was his hatred of
all that was conventional, that his Titanic
dreams became historical facts concerning
which he would admit of no discussion. All
those who have heard him speak of his an-
cestors, of their riches, of " the stately sea-
beaten manor-house," in which his early
youth was passed, will understand, without
further insisting, what I mean. Yet, in those
rare, and for him, wearisome moments, when
he returned to earth, Villiers knew his family
history perfectly, and in its minutest detail.
He had studied the subject profoundly, and
his genius illuminated for him all that was
prosaic and dull in provincial and Parisian
archives. I know a certain work of his,
dealing Avith the life of the Marechal de
Villiers de Tlsle Adam, which is a master-
piece of clearness, eloquent expression, and
erudition. I will return to it at a more
6 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
opportune moment. At present I am chiefly
concerned with the poet's origin.
The illustrious family of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam, Seigneurs de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam
and de Chailly, originated in the He de
France. Several knights of the name took
part in the Crusades, others occupied the
highest positions about the court and in the
army. In fa6l, the brilliant name of Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam is constantly flashing across
the pages of our history. But the most cele-
brated amongst these great noblemen, too
well known for me to add anything to what
has already been written concerning them,
are, in order of date : Pierre, who was Grand-
master and Porte Oriflamme of France in
1355; Jean, Marshal of France in 1437;
and Philippe, Grand Master of the Order of
the Knights of Malta, the heroic defender
of the Island of Rhodes against Suliman in
1521. The nephew of this last, Francois,
Marquis de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, was
"Grand Louvetier de France " in 1550. The
grandson of Francois married, about 1670, a
daughter of the old house of De Courson, and
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 7
settled in the bishopric of St. Brieuc, where
he founded the Breton branch of the Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam family. The grandson of this
last, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, married
in his turn, in 1780, a Mdlle. de Kersauson.
At the time of the Revolution, he emigrated
to England with his family. And here should
be related an incident which has an important
bearing on the curious lawsuit brought by
Villiers against the descendants of the come-
dian Lockroy, an action of which I shall give
the details when I come to that part of the
poet's life in which it occurred.
At the time of the Revolution the house
of De 1'Isle Adam had greatly declined from
its ancient splendour. I will not go into the
causes of this change ; suffice it to say, that
when the naval officer emigrated with those
belonging to him, his income barely sufficed
for the strictest necessaries of life. It follows,
that once established abroad, he did not for
sometime attempt to return. Meanwhile, the
Bourbons having returned to France, all the
so-called servants of the august exiles were
clamouring for the reward of their services.
8 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
A certain Mons. de Villiers Deschamps, a
rich man, and an excellent royalist, asked
permission to revive the name of De 1'Isle
Adam, which he affirmed to be completely
extinct, and to which a distant relationship
gave him a claim. Good Louis XVIII.,
delighted with a petition which would cost
him nothing but a signature, granted without
hesitation the prayer of his loyal subject.
Thus it came about, that until the day when
its luxurious peace was disturbed by the poet's
inopportune interference, the family of De
Villiers, all unconscious of the fraud, bore an
illustrious name and a famous coat-of-arms to
which it had no earthly title.
As I have spoken of the arms of the De
Villiers, this may be the proper place to
describe them : " D'or au chef d'azur charge
d'un dextrochere vetu d'un fanon d'hermines."
Mottoes : " Va oultre ! " and also " La main
All those familiar with Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam and his wonderful books, will recog-
nize that these two proud mottoes seem to
have been made for him.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 9
" Va oultre ! " " Go fonvard ! " This is what
he always did. His clear, prophetic glance
piercing the heavens, and reaching in its
impetuous and aspiring flight far beyond the
horizon of ordinary human thought ! " La
main a 1'ceuvre ! " " Hand at work ! " Yes,
ceaselessly at work, even in the darkest hours
of misery, that hand of the artist and the
gentleman, at once so delicate and so brave,
whose labour only rested in death ! In his
last days he used to watch, sadly enough, the
failing strength of those poor brave hands
which could no longer hold the pen, and he
uttered one night, to one of his faithful friends,
this phrase, which sounds like a knell, " Look !
my flesh is ripening for the tomb."
I return to my story. The old emigrt
marquis, Armand, not choosing to leave the
bones of a Yilliers de 1'Isle Adam in England,
returned to France towards 1820, and died,
soon after the birth of the poet, in a little
manor-house, whose only tower overlooks the
port of Legue and the tossing expanse of the
Bay of St. Brieuc. He left four children,
two sons and two daughters. One, Gabrielle,
io VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
became a nun, and died not long ago, a sister
of the Sacre Coeur de Jesus. The other
married, when no longer young, a Mons. du
Rumain. This worthy couple never showed
any great tenderness for their nephew, either
during his life or after his death. The
youngest brother, Victor, entered the priest-
hood very early in life. He was a wise and
saintly man. He refused all honours, and
would never leave the poor parish of Plou-
milliau, of which he was for half a century
the devoted rector. His nephew has dedi-
cated to him one of the most extraordinary
of his tales, " L'Intersigne." It was written
in 1875 in the presbytery of the good and
simple priest ; and the sojourn of the great
and unhappy poet (whose life at that time
was all storm, agitation, and care) in the
peace of that quiet retreat, inspired him with
these wonderful lines, which none who knew
and loved him can read without emotion :
" The rural aspect of this house, with its
green-shuttered windows, its three stone steps,
its tangle of ivy, clematis, and tea-roses,
covering the walls and reaching the roof
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. n
(whence a little cloud of smoke escaped
through a chimney topped by a vane), in-
spired me with a feeling^of calm, of well-being,
of profound peace. The trees of a neigh-
bouring orchard showed through the trellised
enclosure, their leaves all rusted by the ex-
hausting summer heats. The two windows
of the only storey shone with the western
fire. Between them was a hollow niche
holding the image of some happy saint.
Silently I dismounted, fastening my horse
to the window-shutter, and as I raised
the knocker I cast a traveller's glance at
the horizon behind me. But so brightly
did that horizon shine over the wild and
distant forests of oak and pine, whither the
last birds were winging their belated way,
so solemnly did the waters of a distant reed-
covered lake reflect the sky, so beautiful
was nature in the calm air of that deserted
spot, at that moment when the silence falls,
that I stood mute, the knocker still dangling
in my grasp. ' O thou ! ' I thought, ' who
findest not the refuge of thy dreams, and to
whom, after many a weary march 'neath cruel
12 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
stars so joyful at the start, so saddened
now the land of Canaan with its palm-trees
and running waters comes not with the dawn.
Heart made for other exile than that whose
bitterness thou sharest with brothers who
love thee not! Behold, here mayst thou sit
thee down upon the stone of melancholy
here mayst thou dream such dreams as might
haunt thee in the tomb, wouldst thou truly
desire to die ! Come hither, then, for here
the sight of the heavens shall transport thee
into oblivion ! " I cite this passage, not only
because it seems to me to be exceedingly
beautiful, but because it really is a psycho-
logical document one of the very rare in-
stances in which a writer has permitted his
published work to reflecl: his personal emo-
The renunciation of the world by the
young sister and brother of Villiers was not
perhaps altogether the result of an irresistible
vocation. In these old races, the family
spirit is traditional, and the sacrifice of the
earthly interest of its younger members on
the altar of the birthright of the eldest, is
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 13
still not imfrequently made. However this
may have been, the Marquis Joseph de
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, Knight of the Order
of Malta " de la Langue de France," remained
in consequence of that fact the only repre-
sentative of his mighty line. He obtained a
dispensation from the Pope, and married
Mdlle. Marie Frangoise le Nepveu de Car-
fort, who was the mother of our Villiers.
The Marquis de 1'Isle Adam did not dero-
gate from his dignity by allying himself with
this family. The knight Roland de Carfort
took the Cross in 1248. In 1370 Olivier
de Carfort allied himself with the Dukes of
Brittany. At the time of the first reform of
the nobility in 1669, the De Carfort family
proved seven generations. It appears in the
registers of nobility from 1425 to 1535, for
the parishes of Cesson, Le Fceil, St. Turiaff,
and Plaintel, in the bishopric of St. Brieuc.
The Nepvou, or Le Nepveu, were lords of
Carfort, Beruen, La Roche, Crenan, Du Clos,
La Cour, La Ville Anne, Lescouet, and La
Coudraye. They bore as arms, " De gueules
a six billettes d'argent, 3, 2, i au chef de meme."
i 4 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
I ask indulgence for my long dissertation
on these genealogical details. There was
but one weak spot in the coat of mail woven
of pride and haughty scorn with which Vil-
liers endued himself before he descended
into the terrible lists of life. The polished
vipers of the boulevards, the jealous carrion-
crows of literature, knew well that to poison
and wound this invulnerability, their bites and
their beak-thrusts must be directed against
his family pride. They did not fail to do it !
His right to everything was disputed, ances-
tors, nobility, his very name ! Villiers used to
roar like a lion stung by poisonous flies.
But good, clear, precise proofs are worth
more to the adlual public than the loudest
roars, and if in that country beyond the grave
he still troubles concerning trivial earthly
matters, he will rejoice that his Breton cousin
has endeavoured to establish incontestably
his relationship with those heroes of the sword
from whom, himself a hero of the pen, he so
Unfortunately, it is possible to be at the
same time exceedingly well-born and exces-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 15
sively poor ; and Mdlle. de Carfort was no
richer than the marquis. Nevertheless, thanks
to an old aunt, Mdlle. Daniele Kerinou, who
had adopted her and who possessed a modest
competence ; thanks, too, to some remnants of
fortune, and to the fabulous cheapness of life
in Brittany in those days, the household
might have lived with dignity, dividing the
year between the modest residence on the
sea-coast and the little old house in the Rue
Houvenagues at St. Brieuc. But the singular
disposition and the perilous whimsicality of
the head of the family spoilt everything.
I do not believe that there has ever existed
either in reality or in fiction a character more
extraordinary than that of the father of Villiers.
To depict it, even approximately, would need
all the raciness of Dickens, all the profound
power of observation of Balzac. And besides,
I should be carried too far by the subject.
I will content myself, therefore, with sketching
one salient trait of this wonderfully original
man. The Marquis de 1'Isle Adam was
possessed with an effulgent dazzling vision of
gold. His son was haunted in the same way,
1 6 VILLIERS DE LISLE ADAM.
and he has thus described himself in one of
his novels : " My sole inheritance, alas ! has
consisted in his dazzling hopes and dreams !
Indifferent to the political cares of the century
and of the Fatherland indifferent, too, to the
temporary results of the criminal failures of
their representatives I linger to gaze upon
the reddening crests of the neighbouring
forest ; instinctively, though why I know not,
I shun the ill-omened moonlight and the
noxious presence of my fellow-men. Yes, I
shun them ! For I feel that I bear in my
soul the reflected glory of the barren wealth
of many a forgotten king."
But whereas the writer found in the exer-
cise of his art an outlet for his besetting idea,
and a defence against its allurements, the
marquis formed the wild project of realizing
his visions by becoming a man of business.
And a singular business man was he this
tall, thin marquis ! Always in the clouds full
of morgue, and haughty as a descendant of the
" Porte Oriflamme of France " might well be ;
gifted, truly, with an all-devouring activity,
but spending it all in placing shares in the
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 17
most chimerical of undertakings ! He asserted,
and with some show of reason, that during
the Revolution, and the troublous times that
ensued, many inheritances were wrongly as-
signed to people who had no right to them,
and this to the detriment of the real heirs.
On this supposition his principal speculation
depended. He undertook, in consideration
of a certain percentage, to have restored to
the injured families the properties which were
theirs by right. This brilliant project once
formed, the marquis went forth, beating up
the country in every direction, searching
private libraries, public archives, and church
registers ; talking to old people, and accumu-
lating a formidable mass of information.
Then, when he considered himself sufficiently
armed, apprizing those who were most inte-
rested. Some, seduced by the hope of gain,
allowed themselves to be tempted, and after
long and expensive litigation, ended by con-
signing the marquis and his imaginary in-
heritances to all the gods of Erebus. This
discoverer of doubtful inheritances soon be-
came the terror of every attorney, lawyer,
1 8 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
and sheriffs' officer in Lower Brittany. For
his haughty self-confidence carried him every-
where, into every office, every agency ; and
his cool pride, his aristocratic ways, and his
illustrious name, awed the worthy scriveners
of a remote province, where people are still
simple enough to respect certain things. It
will easily be conceived that such under-
takings and the failure which generally crowned
them, far from augmenting the redoubtable
marquis's income, made fresh gaps in his
And the second speculation undertaken by
this astonishing person was as fantastic as
the first. Dreaming, as he did incessantly,
of delusive treasure, he soon began to imagine
that it existed elsewhere than in his own
fancy. He persuaded himself that the soil of
old Armorica concealed subterranean caves,
mute guardians of the fabulous riches placed
in them by former generations in times of
trouble and civil war.
Where, for example, was the huge fortune
of the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which had
enabled them to take rank amongst the most
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 19
gorgeous courtiers of France ? The seeker
of inheritances became a treasure seeker, and
set himself to work with the same ardour
and conviction as heretofore. In the neigh-
bourhood of Quintin stood the ruins of an
old castle, which had formerly belonged to the
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. The marquis bought
a concession, hired labourers, and set about
his researches. I know not whether he had
discovered in his family archives, some proof,
or even any vague indication, which might
lead to success. His son was convinced he
had. He has spoken to me very seriously
and eloquently of this treasure, buried for
centuries ; he has shown me the plan of the
subterranean hiding-place, and he endeavoured
to find capitalists to assist his father in com-
pleting his excavations.
Fortunately money was not to be had, and
Villiers, not having been able to carry out
this dream in a practical way, has realized it
in a wonderful manner in one of his most
powerful works. I speak of the book entitled
" Le Vieux de la Montagne," the full and
complete manuscript of which I have held
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
in my hands. This drama, according to the
poet's design, should have immediately fol-
lowed that of " Axel," of which it is the
continuation, as " The Adoration of the
Magi " is the conclusion.
Birth of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam His baptism His
childhood Stolen by mountebanks School life
St. Brieuc Laval Rennes His first poem
His early portrait "L'Amour et la Mort" Elegy
Literary plans Family devotion and tenderness
" Our Matthias " Departure for Paris.
H I LE her husband was thus spend-
ing himself in a feverish and ruinous
activity, the gentle and delicate
marquise lived sadly on at home
in the company of her good aunt Kerinou.
The existence of these two women was solitary
and sad, the anxiety which the undertakings
of the head of the family caused Mdme. de
1'Isle Adam alone breaking its monotony;
but a fervent piety, a rare gentleness of soul,
and a strong hope in the goodness of God,
supported her through life. Her faith was at
22 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
last rewarded, and God granted her most
ardent desire, by sending her in November,
1838, a son who was the joy, the belief, the
hope, and the pride of her simple existence.
Never did a great artist have a more admir-
able mother ! During her long life she never
wavered once in her faith in him, and in his
genius. She believed in her son with the same
simpletrust with which she believed in her God.
It is easy to conceive with what joy the
advent of this child was hailed by these two
lonely women. Here was a being to love, to
cherish, to bring up sunshine breaking in
upon the monotony of their darkness. The
marquis, too, was radiant as he gazed on this
offshoot of the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. Here
-was someone who would restore the glory of
the old race. Ah! he would endow his son
with fabulous wealth. He would force the
earth to render up the treasure hidden in
its breast ! Back he went to his excava-
tions, the marquise and her aunt seeing him
depart this time with less regret, for hope and
consolation smiled on the two good women
from the baby's cradle.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 23
The Bishop of St. Brieuc stood godfather
to the new-comer, and baptized him, 28th
November, 1838, in the presence of his grand-
father, his father, and Mdlle. de Kerinou.
The venerable prelate bestowed on his godson
his own Christian name of Matthias.
I have no intention of following step by
step the progress of the childhood of Villiers ;
the most talented biographers of famous men
have seldom succeeded in making the early
years of their heroes interesting. For child-
hood is above all things a period of silent
incubation, during which soul and mind are
secretly and laboriously developed. One
incident of these first years spent at St. Brieuc
must, however, be reported, for later the ima-
gination of Villiers embroidered it with fan-
tastic details. He was about seven years old,
when his nurse lost him out walking. A
band of strolling mountebanks, who were
going to Brest, met the strayed child, and
looking on the sprightly fair-haired boy as
their legitimate prize, laid hands on him.
Some days later his father found him at Brest
in the booth of his strolling captors. He was
24 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
already the pet of the company, and there
appeared to be such a bond of affection
between the chief of the poor rope-dancers
and the boy, that the marquis, overjoyed to
get back his son, relinquished all idea of pro-
secution. Those who were acquainted with
Villiers will easily imagine what wonderful
and humorous tales he would weave out of
such an adventure. It was worth listening
to, when, in picturesque style, he would con-
jure up the memories of the two years he had
spent amongst those admirable, though ill-
favoured gipsies, visiting successively Italy,
Germany, the Tyrol, and chivalrous Hungary
rescued and restored at last to his family
through the devotion of a beautiful Romany
lass, the last descendant of a time-honoured
race, etc., etc. Villiers began his education
at the school of St. Brieuc, but soon after-
wards continued it at the Lyce"e at Laval.
There his genius began to trouble his soul.
The divine visions of poetry hovered round
him, the breath of artistic enthusiasm fell
glowing on his brow, and his first verses were
written. Between whiles he concluded his
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 25
classical studies, which, once finished, his
family settled with him at Rennes, in a house
in the Rue de Corbin. At this time Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam was seventeen years old, and
it was sufficient to see him for a few moments
to be convinced of his vocation. Inspiration
beamed on his full pale forehead, it sparkled
in his discourse, in which the tumult of ideas
pressed disorderly one on the other, trembled
on his full lips already curled with irony, and
filled his clear blue eyes with a disturbing
light. His large, fair, dishevelled head, his
strange gestures, his disorderly style of dress,
alarmed the correct provincial society, of
which, by the way, he saw but little. But
those few privileged mortals who entered the
magic circle of his intimacy, remained there
fascinated and dazzled. Villiers already pos-
sessed that extraordinary magnetic power
which he preserved all his life, and of which
every friend of his has felt the influence. The
depth of thought in one so young was almost
uncanny. All in fact he needed, at the time
of his arrival at Rennes, to fit him to pro-
nounce his vows before the altar of art, was
26 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
that his heart should bleed under the divine
wound of love, the agonizing consecration of
every true poet.
It was amongst the green fields and lanes
of Brittany that there arose for him, to vanish
almost immediately in death, that tender vision
of womanhood which was his fleeting, but his
only earthly love. She was one of those en-
trancing creatures, of whom he has so well
said, " There are certain helpmates who en-
noble every one of life's joys, certain radiant
maidens whose love is only positively given
once. Yes, some few saintly souls, ideal in
their dawning beauty." I will not profane the
sacred passion of these two young hearts by
trying to describe it. I will only say, They
loved, and she died. On a sudden, suffering
unfolded and spread the poet's budding wings.
In an artist's youth, all his feelings, even
sorrow, turn to song, and so it was with
Villiers. These lines, written at seventeen
years of age by the disdainful scoffer our
generation knew so well, have their natural
place here, marking, as they do, the close of
the child's and the birth of the artist's existence.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 27
O charmants eglantiers ! soleil, rayon, verdure !
Frais salut que la terre offre dans un murmure
De zephirs renaissants, aux coeurs emplis d'espoir,
Bocage encor tout plein de chastes reveries,
Six mois se sont passes loin de vos fleurs che'ries :
J'avais besoin de vous revoir.
Oh ! vous souvenez-vous, foret delicieuse,
De la jolie enfant qui passait gracieuse,
Souriant simpkment au ciel, a. 1'avenir,
Se perdant avec moi dans ces vertes allees ?
Eh bien ! parmi les lis de vos sombres vallees,
Vous ne la verrez plus venir.
O printemps ! 6 lilas ! 6 profondes ramees !
Comme autrefois vos fleurs, qu'elle avait tant aimees,
Sous vos sentiers deserts exhalent leurs amours ;
L'aubepine s'enlace au bane de la charmille,
L'oiseau chante, le ciel est bleu, le soleil brille :
Rien n'a change dans les beaux jours !
Silencieux vallon ! cela n'etait qu'un reve,
Un songe radieux qui maintenant s'acheve
Et ne laisse apres lui qu'un amer souvenir . . .
Ne me demandez pas ce qu'elle est devenue,
La pauvre jeune fille en ce monde venue
Pour consoler et pour mourir !
Morte ! et je suis encore en proie a 1'existence !
C'est done cela la vie ? Et deja mon enfance
A-t-elle disparu loin de ce coeur brise ?
28 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Seigneur, vous etes grand, mais vous etes severe !
Ainsi me voila seul : c'est fini sur la terre ;
Cela s'appelle : " le Passe."
He"las ! je me souviens. Les vents au sein des ombres,
Du fleuve harmonieux plissaient les vagues sombres ;
Les chants ailes du soir s'etaient evanouis ;
Et la lune, en glissant parmi les blancs nuages,
Souvent illuminait les teintes des feuillages
Du clair obscur des belles nuits.
Le rossignol, cache" sous 1'epaisse feuille"e,
Modulait les soupirs de sa chanson perlee,
Les fleurs, dans leurs parfums, s'endormaient a leur tour
Et comme deux rayons reunissent leur flamme,
Tous deux nous unissions nos ames dans une ame,
Et nos deux cceurs dans notre amour.
Comme son joli pied se posait sur la mousse !
Comme sa chevelure e"tait soyeuse et douce !
Nous allions, enlaces, sous les hauts peupliers ;
Elle avait dix-sept ans ; j'avais cet age a peine,
Souvent le rossignol retenait son haleine
En e"coutant nos pas le"gers.
Et moi je contemplais mon amante pensive,
Et nous nous en allions, seuls, aupres de la rive.
Sa main sur mon epaule et le front sur ma main ;
Et les fre"missements de la nuit solitaire
Emportaient dans les cieux, ainsi qu'une priere,
Tous les doux songes du chemin.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 29
Puis, le reveil ! la mort ! 1'existence qui change !
O temps ! vieillard glace" ! qu'as-tu fait de mon ange ?
Oil l'as-tu mise, helas ! et froide et pour toujours ?
Qu'as-tu fait de 1'enfant jeune et pleine de charities,
Qu'as-tu fait du sourire et qu'as-tu fait des larmes,
Oh ! qu'as-tu fait de nos amours ?
Voyez comme les fleurs viennent bien pres des tombes !
On dirait un bouquet que les jeunes colombes,
Retournant au pays, nous laissent pour adieu.
Qu'avait-elle done fait pour mourir la premiere?
Est-ce un crime de vivre ? et 1'amour, sur la terre,
N'est-il pas le pardon de Dieu ?
Ne me souriez plus, 6 campagne immortelle !
Je suis seul maintenant ; si ce n'etait pour elle,
Je n'avais pas besoin de vos fraiches beautes ;
N'ai-je pas vu 1'abime ou tombent toutes choses ?
Les lis meurent dans 1'ombre ou se fanent les roses :
Les cypres seuls restent planted.
Elle est sous les cypres, la pale jeune femme !
Mon amour triste et fier brule encor dans mon ame,
Comme une lampe d'or veille sur le cercueil.
Mais je ne pleure plus : la douleur a ses charmes.
Et d'ailleurs, 6 mon Dieu, mes yeux n'ont plus de larmes,
Et mon cceur seul porte le deuil.
30 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
O lovely eglantine ! O sunlit glades !
Fresh greeting offered by the murmuring earth
On circling breezes to all hopeful hearts,
Since last I saw those fair and much-loved flowers,
Which yet fill all your memory-haunted groves,
Six weary months have passed,
And I have longed to look on you again !
Dost thou remember, Forest, lovely yet,
The pretty graceful child who wandered by,
Smiling her simple faith in Heaven and Fate,
And straying with me through your verdant maze?
Alas ! the lilies hidden in your green depths
Shall see her pass no more !
O spring-time ! Lilacs ! O deep greenwood shades !
Your flowers, erstwhile so dear to her sweet soul,
Still shed their scent o'er your deserted paths,
The may still twines the bench within the grove,
Birds sing, the sky is blue, the sun still shines,
No change has come upon your summer-tide :
Dumb silent valley ! It was all a dream,
A radiant dream, too soon, alas ! to pass
And leaving but a bitter sense of loss
Where she is now, I pray you, ask me not !
That sweet young creature, sent into this world
To comfort others then herself to die !
Dead ! Can it be ? And I must still live on !
Is this Life's fate ? And has my youth indeed
Forsaken for ever this poor broken heart ?
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 31
Lord, Thou art just, but oh ! Thou strikest hard !
I am alone ! I've done with earthly dreams !
I've learnt the bitter meaning of " The Past ! "
Alas ! I see it still ! Out of the shadowy night
The gentle river flowed in darkly rippling waves ;
Fallen into dreamless sleep, the birds had hushed their
The moonbeams creeping slow athwart the fleecy clouds
Touched with their silver light the dusk and massy shades,
Seen through the twilight of the lovely night.
The nightingale from out the green and bosky shade
Sighed forth his passion in his pearly-throated song,
The flowers had bowed their heads in deep and perfumed
And we, whose souls were joined as though in one sun ray,
Could feel our happy hearts beating in one great
How firm her dainty step upon the mossy path !
How silken and how soft the masses of her hair !
As arm in arm we walked 'neath the tall poplar trees,
(She was but seventeen, and I was hardly more,)
Often the nightingale would seem to hold his breath,
To listen to our lightly falling steps.
And how I loved to gaze upon her thoughtful face,
As far along the bank we wandered all alone,
My shoulder 'neath her hand, while mine caressed her
32 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
And all the rustlings of the lovely night
Carried to Heaven, as though they were a prayer,
The sweet and dreamy fancies of the hour !
Then, with Death's awful change, the sad awakening
hoary-headed Time ! Where hast thou hid my love?
For ever cold and still, ah ! whither is she gone?
That child, so full of life, of young resistless charm,
Where is her magic smile ? and where her melting tears?
And where the vanished glory of our loves ?
Mark now, how lush the flowers grow near a tomb !
Just like the nosegays some young turtle doves
Might leave for farewell offering, ere they fly
Into their native country ! Why should she die first ?
Is life a crime? And is not earthly love
God's own forgiveness ?
Smile then no more, O immortal country fields !
1 stand henceforth alone. And it was but for her
That your fresh blooming beauty seemed so sweet to me !
Have I not plumbed the depths which ingulf all earthly
The lilies wither, and the roses fade away
Beneath the shadows which the cypress loves !
Beneath the cypress sleeps that woman young and pale,
My sad and faithful love still burns within my soul,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 33
Like to the golden lamp which burns before a corpse.
But I can weep no more, in spite of sorrow's charm,
And this, O Lord, is why : My eyes have no more
And my heart hides its lonely misery !
Villiers never loved truly, deeply, in-
genuously, but this once. No other woman
ever took in his existence the place of the
gentle, dead Breton girl. His imagination
may have been swept away by the rustle of
some passing robe, his senses may have been
captivated, his artistic feeling interested, by
the charm of the perturbing mystery which
surrounds the eternal problem of the softer
sex, but the poet's heart remained untouched,
impregnable, proud, wrapped up in its sad
fidelity to that early memory.
This first terrible experience of sorrow
hastened the prodigiously rapid intellectual
development of the young writer. He sought
and found refuge in excessive activity, and
Inspiration, great and radiant consoler, illu-
mined his mind and beamed upon his heart.
Vast conceptions, gigantic projects, such as
are always formed by youthful artists, en-
34 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
veloped his spirit with their luxuriant growth.
In this one year, he conceives the idea of a
drama, " Morgane," impressed with a melan-
choly splendour ; he plans a wonderful trilogy,
which eventually, under the three titles of
" Axel," " L' Adoration des Mages," and " Le
Vieux de la Montagne," will become the chief
work, the crowning point of his existence as
a thinker ; he imagines his mysterious novel,
" I sis," and, above all, he pours forth in lines
pulsating with life and glow, all the tumultuous
grief of his tortured and sorrow-laden soul !
During this period, while his genius was agi-
tatedly beating her wings like a captive eagle,
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam found at the home-
fireside constant encouragement, unceasing
sympathy, and immeasurable tenderness !
There is something admirably touching and
rare in this worship of him by his own people
in his early days. Generally the youth of
an artist is darkened by the ill-will, the in-
stinctive mistrust of art, the narrow-minded-
ness, the love of lucre, of his family. In the
case of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, the contrary
was the fact. The mother, the old aunt, the
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 35
treasure-seeking marquis, disagreeing in all
else, formed a perfect union when it was a
question of singing the praises of " their
Matthias." They lauded him, they exalted
him on to a pedestal. His vocation, his
genius, the certainty of his success, of his
future glory, were so many articles of faith to
them. And they proved it.
Persuaded that Paris was the only stage
worthy of the great part which their Matthias
was called to enact, convinced that it was
their own absolute duty to sacrifice every-
thing in order that the genius of the family
might expand in full freedom, these admirable
souls, at the very sight of whom the self-
important bourgeois smiled and shrugged
their shoulders, resolved to sell everything,
to realize their little fortune, and, their small
purse in hand, to go and await in some out-of-
the-way corner in the formidable town the
final victory of the last of the Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, who, according to their childlike
faith, was with brain and pen to reconquer
for them the fortune and the celebrity which
their ancestors had won by blood and sword !
36 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
All hastened to the rescue. The nun of
the Sacred Heart, the abbe, the old aunt
the marquis was indefatigable in calling in
his funds; he sold at an enormous loss, but
without a shadow of regret, his little manor-
house at Le"gue and the old residence at St.
Brieuc. He abandoned the excavations for
ten treasures, and the search for half a hundred
inheritances, and following his son, accom-
panied by his wife, and having in tow the old
aunt, who would not be left behind, he started
for Paris, to the cry of " Dieu le volt ! " (It
is God's will !) with the same confidence in
which his crusader ancestors had departed to
Paris The reign of the common-place in literature
The poets The defenders of the Beautiful " Le Par-
nasse Contemporain " " LesParnassiens" Catulle
blendes and the " Revue Fantaisiste " Triumphal
entry of Villiers de ITsle Adam First Poems
Friendships Stephane Mallarmeand Leon Dierx
"Claire Lenoir" Appearance of Dr. Triboulat Bon-
homet A few words touching this personage " Le
Roman d'une Nuit," by Catulle Mendes Death of
the "Revue Fantaisiste "The Blue Dragon Hotel
The Rue de Douai- Villiers de ITsle Adam, accord-
ing to Francois Coppee.
T the time of the exodus of Villiers
and his family, Paris had become,
from the artistic and literary point
of view, the paradise of the com-
mon-place. The gods of this Olympus were
composers of operettas, manufacturers of
serial novels, historiographers of the latest
scandals, poets of the drawing-room, of the
38 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
boudoir, nay, of the cafe concerts. All these
lived and fattened on their trade, honoured,
and almost celebrated, clinging to the title of
artist, yet ignorant of, or despising, the pri-
mordial rules of art. The censure, which
smiled sanctimoniously on the short skirts
and sprightly whims of the Offenbach School,
could never be severe enough on truly artistic
and conscientious work. It was the epoch of
the ridiculous prosecution of the author of
" Madame Bovary," and of the sentence
As for those poets who pursued their
divine chimera with fervour and disinterested-
ness, no jest was reckoned too coarse, no insult
in too bad taste, to be thrown in their faces.
The press was perpetually sharpening the
arrows of its keenest satire, wherewith to
pierce whomsoever aspired to any great ideal.
Victor Hugo, exiled as he was, alone suc-
ceeded in stirring the masses to their depths.
In the face of all this opprobrium, the last
survivors of the admirable phalanx of romantic
poets had wrapped themselves in scornful
silence. Emile Deschamps lay dying ob-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 39
scurely in the dreary town of Versailles, he,
the author of the " Romanceros," rhyming
sickly madrigals to Chloris ; while the divine
Theophile Gautier, the illustrious hero of the
first performance of " Hernani," cast the last
blossoms of his astonishing intellect on the
common track of the newspaper feuilleton.
Poetry and art seemed in truth to be dead,
stifled by the triumph of materialistic stupidity.
But poetry and art are as immortal as the
starry heavens, and at the very moment in
which they seemed to lie in their last agony,
they were silently making ready to spread
their vigorous limbs and soar with lofty
flight into the blue realms of the ideal !
Certain youths, very young and poor,
banded together in the same faith, the same
deep and passionate love of the beautiful, the
same lively hatred of the common-place and
the vulgar, formed the bold project of revolt-
ing, w r eak and almost defenceless as they
were, against this formidable tyranny of folly
and mediocrity. They resolved to defend
the sacred domain of literature with all their
young strength against the invasion which
40 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
threatened it ; to proclaim the power of
rhythm, the respect that is due to syntax, to
affirm, in short, that no work can be really
artistic without a constant jealousy for form.
The critics of the chief newspapers, the
chroniclers of the small ones, drew upon their
usual arsenal of gibes and jeers, and old jokes
turned out as new, to scoff down these rash
youths. They were given strange nicknames,
" Formists," "Stylists," " Fantaisistes," " Im-
passibles." Songs were made about them,
they were caricatured, made to play the parts
of idiots in the " Revues " at the end of each
year, and to conclude, when a young pub-
lisher, who (thanks to his lucky daring) had
become a millionaire, ventured to publish the
first number of their collected poems, " Le
Parnasse Contemporain," they were held up
to public laughter and indignation as " Les
Parnassiens " (the Parnassians).
All this rage, however, far from crushing
these chivalrous young votaries of the ideal,
filled their hearts with fresh courage. In spite
of jests and insults, they pursued their course,
and what is still more admirable and touching,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 41
pursued it in spite of the direst poverty. Of
them, as of every artist, posterity has been
the true judge ; and it has sent back to their
native obscurity those who, from the heights
of their brilliant existence, made game of the
poor little feverish -eyed, shabby-coated poets.
Where are now the names of those sparkling
and witty quill-drivers, who poured forth their
sarcasms on the obscure Parnassians ? And,
on the other hand, the names of these same
Parnassians, are they not now familiar to us
all ? To cite only the chief among them, have
we not Francois Coppee, Sully Prudhomme,
Alphonse Daudet, Leon Cladel, Glatigny,
Catulle Mendes, and Villiers de 1'Isle Adam ?
Res miranda! The first publication of these
new representatives of "la jeune France"
was not a collection of verses, it was just
simply a review in which prose and poetry
joyously alternated. Gaily covered, cheerful
in tone, with an attractive and well-sounding
title, its editor was nineteen years old, and it
had not a contributor who counted more than
five-and- twenty summers. In short, it was
the " Revue Fantaisiste," whose director was
42 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
a native of Bordeaux, newly arrived in Paris,
poor as Job and handsome as Apollo, by
name Catulle Mendes. The offices of this
review were in the Passage Mires, now
Passage des Princes. Here Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam broke his first lance, and my readers
will doubtless appreciate this quotation from
a little known but amusing work, in which
the former director of the " Revue Fantaisiste "
has presented, in a style at once witty and
feeling, the picture of the home of the " Par-
nasse Contemporain " :
" The office was a somewhat strange-look-
ing place ; hangings of green and rose-
coloured chintz, like a smiling meadow, seemed
to gaze in wonder at the mahogany cupboards
and tables. A lounge (seldom unoccupied)
at the back of the room appeared to sulk at
the leathern arm-chair and the cardboard
manuscript cases. It was half drawing-room,
and would fain have been all boudoir !
" Hither, every afternoon, towards three
o'clock, came Theodore de Banville, giving
us freely, with the good-nature of a youthful
maestro, his intoxicating mixture of Orpheus
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 43
and Balzac, at one and the same time so lyric
and so truly Parisian ; Charles Asselineau,
with his long soft hair already grey, and on
his lips that smile, tender though ironic, which
none but Nodier ever had before him ; Leon
Golzan, who graciously vouchsafed us the
support of his name ; Charles Monselet,
Jules Noriac, Philoxene Boyer, dreaming of
Shakespeare, and Charles Baudelaire, slight,
elegant, a little stealthy, almost alarming with
his half-frightened air, gracefully haughty,
with the attraction and charm of beauty in
distress, rather like a very delicate bishop,
somewhat fallen away from grace perhaps,
who had donned an elaborate lay costume for
travelling purposes : ' His Eminence Mon-
seignor Beau Brummel ! ' He used to bring
us those wonderful prose poems, which are
numbered now amongst the most perfect
pages in French literature. There, too, Albert
Glatigny, with his vagrant flow of speech,
hand on hip, his necktie undone, his waistcoat
too short, and obstinately ignorant of braces,
smiling like some young faun, wearied out by
the tendernesses of the nymphs, would recite
44 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
to us those amorous strophes of his, whose
rhymes seem to re-echo the sound of kisses."
It was in this abode, with its strange charm,
where the three twin sisters, Youth, Poetry,
and Poverty, seemed to have met together,
that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam made his entry
into the world of letters. He presented him-
self, almost immediately on his arrival in
Paris, his pockets stuffed with his family
parchments and his own manuscript com-
positions. At the very outset he took the
office by storm, and he soon became one of
the chief editors of the " Revue Fantaisiste."
The brilliant apparition of the last descendant
of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta
has often been described in enthusiastic terms
by those who were eye-witnesses of it. " He
impressed us," says M. Henri Laujol, "as
being the most magnificently gifted young
man of his generation." Villiers brought with
him some manuscript poems, which were pub-
lished that very year by Scheuring of Lyons,
with much luxury of paper and printing, under
the title of" Premieres Poesies " (First Poems).
The book was dedicated to the Comte Alfred
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 45
de Vigny. In this collection of verse, now
hardly to be found, there is already a glimpse
of the profound original thinker, scornful of
all conventionalism. It is not, to be sure, by
any means a piece of perfection, but through
its uncertainties, its weaknesses, its gropings
in the dark, here and there, as in " Hermosa "
and " Le Chant du Calvaire," there beams
the flash of genius.
These first years of Villiers in Paris con-
tain the few truly happy moments of a life
full of bitterness. He was free, then, from
the anxiety of earning his daily bread, and
when he left the family circle, where he was
adored like a deity, he met everywhere, on
his first appearance, with an enthusiastic wel-
come. The originality of his gestures and
demeanour, and his profound, passionate, and
picturesque speech, full as it was of glowing
imagery, aroused amongst young people an
admiration which amounted to fanaticism.
He was the spoiled child of the Parnassians,
and he found in their coterie the two friends
who, through all the trials and hardships, and
all the mortifications of his life, remained
46 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
faithful to him till death, and after it ; I
speak of M. Stephane Mallarme and M.
Lon Dierx. Every friend of Villiers must,
like myself, vow an infinite gratitude to
the two excellent-hearted poets who, having
supported the author of the " Nouveau
Monde " in the hours of his despondency and
darkest poverty, showed him, in his last ill-
ness, a care, a delicate tenderness, a devotion,
and a disinterestedness, which the tenderest
woman might have envied them. No artist's
existence, even in the direst tribulation, could
be completely wretched, while brightened and
warmed by the flame of such sturdy friendship.
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam made his d^but,
then, in the " Revue Fantaisiste," with a tale
called " Claire Lenoir," a strange, mysterious,
terrifying story. What makes this work
peculiarly interesting to us is that in it there
appears, for the first time, a character which
has become almost legendary, and on the
creation of which the writer worked up till
the end of his life. It will be understood
that I refer to the striking figure of Dr.
Triboulat Bonhomet, the personification of
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 47
the scientific and atheistic bourgeois a
monstrous Prud'homme, transcendently fool-
ish and ferociously egotistic. In drawing his
own portrait, Bonhomet writes this sentence,
which seems to me to sum up the original
idea of his author : " My physiognomy is that
of my century, of which I have reason to
believe myself the archetype ; briefly, I am a
doctor, a philanthropist, and a man of the
world." Again, speaking of his own convic-
tions, he says : " My religious ideas are
limited to the absurd conviction that God has
created man in His own image, and vice versa"
This Dr. Triboulat Bonhomet was to Villiers
what "le garden" was to Flaubert : a sort of
imaginary personage, whom he endued with a
complete personality, with all the passions of
a real and complicated character, in whose
mouth he placed the jokes and the aphorisms
which he collected in conversation and in life,
or which his profound and ironic wit invented
for him. This doctor makes one shudder rather
than laugh, and the circumstantial pedantry
with which he relates the alarming adventures
of " that discreet and scientific personage,
48 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Dame Claire Lenoir, widow," adds to the
terror of her story.
But I shall frequently have occasion, in the
course of these notes, to quote the sayings of
this "honorary member of many academies
and professor of physiology," whose greatest
enjoyment, according to his biographer, was
to kill swans, in order to hear their dying
song. For the moment, I must register the
decease of the poetical little review, in
which so many talents tried their budding
wings. It passed away in the second year of
its existence, beaten to death by the censure,
in the name of public morality. The so-called
outrage had been committed by its director,
Catulle Mendes, and took the form of a one-
act comedy in verse, entitled, " A Night's
Romance" ("Le Roman d'une Nuit"). The
piece was far from being a good one, but,
though frivolous and mediocre, it was not
criminal, and one wonders on reading it how
judges were found to condemn the author of
such a tiny spark to a month's imprisonment,
and the review which published it to 500
francs fine. The poet had to go to Ste.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 49
Pelagie and the review had to pay the fine.
Money was scarce, and by the time the
demands of justice were satisfied, the cashbox
was empty. The contributors cheerfully cele-
brated the obsequies of their literary offspring,
and most of them went to live in a furnished
inn in the Rue Dauphine, famous in the annals
of contemporary literature as the Blue Dragon
Hotel. Four years later, we find them
gathered once more round their former chief.
Fortune had smiled on Catulle Mendes ; he had
money in his pockets, and owned, in the Rue
de Douai, an apartment containing real furni-
ture and a piano ; likewise a groom, surnamed
Covielle, who opened the door to such visitors
as were in possession of the necessary pass-
word. In one of his articles in the " Patrie,"
these meetings of the future Parnassians have
been admirably reproduced by Frangois Cop-
pee. Want of space forbids me to cite the
whole, but I quote this portrait of Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, which represents him with perfect
and striking truthfulness.
"Suddenly, round the assembled poets, runs
the universal cry of joy, ' Villiers ! Here's
50 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Villiers ! ' And all at once a young man,
with light blue eyes, a little wavering in his
walk, chewing a cigarette, tossing back his
disordered locks, and twisting his small, fair
moustache, enters, wearing a haggard look,
shakes hands absently, sees the open piano,
sits down to it, and nervously touching the
keys, sings in a voice which trembles, but the
deep and magic accents of which none of us
can ever forget, a melody he has improvised
in the street, a vague, mysterious melopceia,
which accompanies (thereby doubling the
depth and agitation of the impression it
makes) Charles Baudelaire's beautiful sonnet:
' Nous aurons des lits plains d'odeurs le*geres
Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux,' etc.
' Our beds shall be scented with sweetest perfume,
Our divans be as cool and as dark as the tomb ! '
" Then, while all are still under the spell,
humming the last notes of his air, or else
abruptly breaking it off, he rises, leaves the
piano, goes as though to hide himself in the
corner of the room, and rolling another
cigarette, casts over his stupified audience
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 51
a comprehensive glance, the glance of Hamlet
as he lies at Ophelia's feet, during the repre-
sentation of the death of Gonzago.
" Thus appeared to us, eighteen years ago,
in those pleasant gatherings at the house of
Catulle Mendes, in the Rue de Douai, the
Comte Auguste Philippe Villiers de 1'Isle
Feb. 26, 1883.
Early influences Charles Baudelaire My father
His relations with Villiers Their intimacy The
Hotel d'Orle'ans Literary and philosophical gather-
ings Leon Cladel Villiers and the Hegelian philo-
sophy " Isis " "The Princess Tullia Fabriana"
Preface Eccentricities of style The original of
Doftor Bonhomet Doftor C. "Ellen" and
"Morgane" Sensations of loneliness The Mar-
quis de 1'Isle Adam continues at Paris the course of
his profitable financial operations The poisoner,
Comte Courty de la Pommerais The apartment in
the Rue St. Honore The marquis Aunt Kerinou
T sometimes happens that strong
influences felt by an artist in his
early intellectual life leave an in-
effaceable mark on his existence.
At the time of his initiation into literature,
Villiers fell under two such influences, that
of Charles Baudelaire, and that of my father.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 53
The ascendancy exercised over him by the
" Satanic " poet seems to me to have been
somewhat inauspicious. It developed his
taste for extremes and for mystification, it led
him astray from the exercise of his talent,
naturally clear and simple in its expression,
instigating him to bury it in clouds of whim-
sical metaphor, or to allow himself to be
drawn into the obscurities, the affectations,
the over-refinements, which sometimes dis-
figure his work, and make it so difficult to
read. Let it be understood that I do not
speak here of irony, which was one of
Villiers' most powerful weapons, and which
was originally, in his case, thoroughly good-
natured, though the hardships of life, and the
wicked stupidity of those who considered
themselves " the pink of gentility," sharpened
it, and rendered it pitiless and terrible.
But his connection with Baudelaire, the in-
fluence which the author of the " Fleurs du
Mai " gained over his heart and intellect at
the threshold of his literary career, inspired
him with that mania for making the middle
class stare, " epater le bourgeois," and for
54 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
mystifying his readers, from which he was
never able to free himself even in his most
deeply thought-out work, " L'Eve Future."
My father's influence, on the contrary, was,
by Villiers' own acknowledgment, very useful
and precious to him. He often told me that
he would have risen much higher if he had
listened to him more. But there was nothing
strange in the fa<5t that his nervous nature,
his mind full of every sort of curiosity, his
youth, indeed, should have been much more
captivated by the wilful eccentricities, the
exotic life, the dandyism, and the cool per-
versity of Charles Baudelaire, than by the
counsels of his Breton relative, who was for
ever preaching to him sobriety, labour, soli-
tude, and silence.
Up to the time of the arrival of the family
of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam in Paris, my father's
relations with Villiers had merely been those
which usually exist between a youth and a
man considerably his senior; but, after the
young poet's triumphant entry into the capital,
attracted more than any other person by the
brilliant dawn of the budding genius, and
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 55
dreading for him the formidable reefs on
which so many great men make shipwreck
during their apprentice days, he drew Villiers
towards him, and took him, so to say, under
his wholesome tutorship. From that day,
Matthias became part of the family, and it
was soon after that he paid that first visit to
Fougeres my recollection of which I have
described at the commencement of this work.
Here, perhaps, is the fittest place to
insert an amusing letter, the facsimile of
which is offered to the inquiring reader.
It is addressed to my father, and dated from
Montfort, a small town in the department of
Ille-et-Vilaine. In it Villiers alludes to
the printing of his first volume of poems.
M. Lemenant, the lawyer-friend in whose
house the letter was written, was a worthy
and eccentric man, an old schoolfellow of the
poet's at Laval, who, having profited but
little by his earlier education at school, and
by his subsequent study of transcendental
philosophy in Paris, wisely devoted himself
to the care of the parental acres and briefs,
in his native province. He died young and
56 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
rich. Villiers dedicated some verses to him
in the " Premieres Poesies."
" My dear good poet,
" And how are you ? Better I hope.
If I were in your place, I should be in the
rudest health. But let that be as it may, I
am certain that the one thing that you pine
for at this moment, is your seventy-second
game of chess.
" If, however, you should be thinking of
starting for the land of shadows, be good
enough to give me warning, so that I may
compose in your glory, and for the wonder-
ment of the world in general, a funeral march
in E flat. It is the fashionable key, and on
fashion I take my stand !
" I have no letters from my interesting
family. Lemenant and I are in the depths of
poverty, which facl; forces me to ask your
permission to put off the repayment of your
kindly help. Don't swear at me ! I publish
the praise of your amiability far and wide.
And, besides, the fault is yours, and it will
teach you to be too good-natured ! Now, I ask
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 57
you, whether in this nineteenth century, any
sane man should lend money to his friend ?
Do you desire to see the finger of scorn
pointed at you in every drawing-room you
enter ? I will denounce you to the whole
of society as a traitor to the principle of
modern selfishness !
" This may bore you but you richly de-
serve it !
" The proofs of ' Master Perrin ' are comical
to the last degree.
" Lemenant and I have had several hearty
laughs at his expense. I am going to write
him a little jeering letter which will puzzle
his poor brains.
" Here is a specimen of his manner. It is
all the same from beginning to end.
"' Unfaige de Don Ivan & def pechevrf dv
" ' L'usage de Don Juan et des pecheurs du
" Here you have an impossible rhyme,
printed in this man's extraordinary style.
Too much of a joke, isn't it ? Between our-
selves, a man who has such a notion must be
58 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
mad ; just fancy a book printed on yellow
paper in this style ! Lemenant vows it
would be quite phosphorescent. It really is
comical, and in my collected works (if they
are ever published) I might afford myself
such a luxury, but at present ! Zut ! This is
my definition. He is the ne plus iiltra of a
grinning, superannuated typographer, or, if
you prefer it, the weird ink-scratcher of the
Gutenbergian Press ! and, in other words,
the grave of human thought !
" Now, let us go on to less casual matters.
" Montfort is a town, or rather stay ! I
am right in calling it a town full of mud, and
of calm. We live in it, under the wing of
that good old seraph whose name is ' cheerful-
" The country swarms with worthy people,
and one hardly knows oneself, coming from
" There is a mill here, a real mill, exactly
like Rosa Bonheur's pictures (still life).
" Lemenant pours daily from our open
window his sanctimonious speeches, and his
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 59
" The few terrified passers-by listen, listen,
and accompany his discourse to the air,
' II a des bott, bott, bott.' The which pro-
duces an effect whereon I heartily congratulate
" We live in the square, which triples the
interest of the view, and I peacefully go on
making rhymes in the midst of the tumult.
A bientot, dear kind poet !
" Believe in my true faithful friendship ! I
clasp your hand and heartily embrace you.
If you have time, send me a reassuring word
about your health.
" VILLIERS DE L'!SLE ADAM."
At the very end of the Rue Richelieu,
almost opposite the Theatre Francais, stands
an hotel the Hotel d' Orleans where I
often and gladly stay. I cannot pass under
its vaulted entrance without being deeply
moved. As I gaze on the inner court with
its steep flight of steps, and glance at the
second-floor windows, all the ghosts of my
youthful school-days rise up around me, every
corner of the dwelling is familiar, and at each
60 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
turn I seem to see the proud outline of my
father's face. Here he lived for twelve years,
and here my brothers and I, students at the
College Rollin, spent our Sunday holidays.
We used to be present in clouds of tobacco
smoke, at endless discussions between Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam and the master of the little
apartment. We did not understand much,
it must be admitted, but we used to gaze
open-mouthed at the wild gestures, the
chamois-like bounds, the contortions of every
feature, with which our cousin Matthias used
to embellish his arguments.
This hotel in the Rue Richelieu had not
then, it has not now, the commonplace aspecl;
of our modern caravanserais. In spite of
all the alterations made by its new owners,
the walls of the building still bear the marks
of its illustrious origin.
For this was the old town-house of the
Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, and the prin-
cipal building, reached by a flight of stone
steps of great dignity of form, has preserved
all the majestic simplicity of the architectural
style of the time of Louis XIII.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 61
In the days of my father and of Villiers,
the hotel was kept by a worthy couple whose
son was an artist, and hence, scattered through
the rooms, were tapestries, frescoes, pictures,
and trophies of arms, which heightened the
quaint air of the dwelling.
Hither, in the evenings, to a modest
apartment on the second floor, came some
dreamers, some thinkers, some philosophers.
Besides the face of Villiers, a second coun-
tenance, seen by chance at one of these
reunions, remains graven on my memory,
that of Leon Cladel. His mighty stature,
his long hair, his pallid complexion, his
gloomy countenance, his wild eyes, his
reddish-brown beard, really gave him that air
attributed to him by Catulle Mendes, of a
He used to come with his friend Baude-
laire, whom, I am ashamed to say, I do not
As my father was much occupied with
philosophy at this period of his life, the philo-
sophers were the most numerous and eager
guests at these gatherings, where much coffee
62 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
was drunk, and an incalculable number of
pipes and cigarettes consumed. The host
was at that time passionately interested in
the German school of philosophy, which
soon laid hold of the profound mind of Vil-
liers de 1'Isle Adam. His friend initiated
him into the brilliant spiritualist theories of
Hegel, whose fervent disciple he was ; but
the humanitarian and socialistic projects of
the author of the " Poemes virils " found a
somewhat unfriendly auditor in Villiers. His
mind and soul soared too far above realities
to preoccupy themselves about the sufferings
of humanity or the miseries of real life. On
the other hand, the Titanic poetry, the breadth
and splendour of the views of the German
thinker, filled him with the greatest enthu-
siasm. He began to put forward the theories
of the speculative philosophy in the curious
tale of " Claire Lenoir," which I have already
spoken of. Some years later, in 1862, he
published the first volume of a mysterious
novel, " Isis," the continuation of which never
appeared, in which the Hegelian principles
and system are developed and carried out to
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 63
their extremest limit. This first volume,
entitled " Tullia Fabriana," was dedicated to
my father. It gained for its author some
expressions of admiration from Baudelaire,
which at this date may seem excessive.
In truth, this novel contains more faults
than good qualities. The passion for roman-
ticism of which Villiers never could rid him-
self, here breaks out in gloomy, improbable,
melodramatic adventures, worked out with
all the inexperience of a young hand. An
overflowing wealth of imagination does not
suffice to conceal the inherent vices of the
work. When the writer's talent had ripened,
and when time had calmed down the exube-
rance of his fancy, he himself recognized all
the imperfections of his early efforts, and
" I sis," which was originally to consist of six
volumes, was not continued. In the preface
to " Tullia Fabriana " the author thus ex-
presses himself: "'Isis' is the title of a
collection of works, which will appear, I hope,
at short intervals ; it is the collective formula
for a series of philosophical novels, the x
of a problem of the Ideal ; it is the great
64 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
unknown : once finished, the work will be its
The absolute need for oddity which seems
to be inherent in Villiers, is betrayed in
" Isis " in a very evident manner. The
eccentricities of its style attracted many jests
in the smaller papers. Already, at the appear-
ance of "Claire Lenoir" in the "Revue
Fantaisiste," the " Tintamarre " and other
satirical sheets had made copious game of
the strange expressions employed by the
young writer. One sentence especially had
become celebrated. It had been placed by
the author in the lips of Dr. Bonhomet him-
self, " Je lui fus grat de cette injure." Villiers
claimed that, as ingrat is the qualifying ad-
jective derived from the noun ingratitude, so
the adjective derived from gratitude must be
grat. Logically, reason was on his side, but
he doubtless forgot that the French language
laughs at logic.
This name of Bonhomet, coming back to
my pen, reminds me that this bold concep-
tion, which haunted Villiers' brain until his
death, is not purely imaginary. The Hotel
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 65
d' Orleans possessed at that time, as physician
in ordinary, a certain Dr. C , who had
the most ill-favoured countenance it is possible
to imagine. For the rest, he was an excellent
man, of a most charitable nature, and a very
distinguished savant. But his gloomy face,
a certain mode of expressing himself at once
whimsical and pompous, his positivism, his
disdainful scorn for any manifestation of art,
the extraordinary shape of his hats and cut of
his clothes, heated the poet's imagination.
Thenceforward, all unconscious, the worthy
Dr. C became a sort of dummy, on whose
frame Villiers hung, from day to day, all the
wily sophisms, all the strange fancies, all the
terrible or grotesque fads, which make the
savant Triboulat Bonhomet a unique type in
The first years in Paris (1859-1863) were
a most prolific period. Besides " Claire Le-
noir" and " Isis," the writer gave the public
two dramas full of gloomy splendour, which
were never acted " Ellen" and "Morgane."
There is a fine sentence in " Morgane," which
I desire to quote here, because it seems to me
66 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
admirably characteristic not only of the style,
but of the turn of mind of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam at this epoch :
" I drink to thee, O forest, thou giver of
oblivion ! To you, dew-laden grasses ! To
you, too, O wild roses ! growing beneath the
oaks, intoxicated by the moisture dripping
from their heavy foliage ! And to you, ye
wild sea-shores, where hover at eventide the
salt odours of the star-reflecting waves, and
who stretch away, like I myself, in pride and
solitude ! "
The author of " L'Eve Future " always
had this sense of being alone in the midst of
the world. " I have always," he wrote to me
a few years before his death, " felt alone, even
when beside a woman I loved, or with a
friend nay, even in the enthusiastically
affectionate circle of my own immediate
While the son thus took his place in the
sunshine of literature, what became of the
proud marquis, the gentle saintly marquise,
the good aunt Kerinou, amidst all the noisy
whirl of Parisian life ? The marquis, still
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 67
possessed by his visions of wealth, had once
more taken up his lucrative speculations. He
was surrounded by a flight of birds of prey,
business agents, and such like, of strange and
lean appearance, who were engaged in sharing
amongst themselves the last remnants of his
He had established on his own account a
sort of branch of the Record Office, where,
with a fine, self-sufficient air, he gave out
brevets of nobility. Unfortunately his choice
of the persons he ennobled was not always
judicious ; and thus it came about that in the
course of the trial of the poisoner, Courty de
la Pommerais, the counsel for that doctor,
criminal enough, although a homoeopath, laid
before the tribunal a pompous certificate
signed by the Marquis Joseph de Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, Dean of the Order of the Knights
of Malta, and attesting the fact that the
accused, being of noble birth, had an incon-
testable right to bear the title of " comte "
(which title he had assumed in order to im-
pose upon his clients !).
Towards the end of 1863, somewhere about
68 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
New Year's Day, my father took me, for the
first time, to visit the old Marquis and Mar-
quise de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. They had
taken apartments in the Rue St. Honore,
close to the Place Vendome, in the house
now occupied, I believe, by the photographer,
M. Lejeune. I remember the drawing-room
was very large, very high up, with very
little furniture, and on that dark December
day it made one rather shivery. The mar-
quise appeared to me like a shadow ; she was
dressed in black, pale, sad, and distinguished-
looking. When my father spoke of Matthias,
her face beamed. She told us with a faint
smile that the marquis was at his business.
She added that her aunt Kerinou was ill in
bed, but that she would like to see us. In a
great old-fashioned bed, I perceived a little
old lady, whose doll-like face, framed in an
immense frilled cap, was all that could be
seen of her. She had a long, mobile nose,
and small bright eyes, and talked a great
deal. Certain phrases which fell perpetually
from her lips struck me, because they made
my father laugh in spite of himself. Her
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 69
intonation rests within my memory, and at
this moment I can hear the little clear tremu-
lous voice repeating, " You know, Hyacinthe,
Matthias is a famous man ! Matthias is going
to have a decoration. The emperor is going
to decorate Matthias. Matthias will be de-
I need hardly add that it was all a dream
of the old lady's. Nobody thought then, no
one has thought since, of giving the " Croix "
to the author of "Axel." Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam was one of those men whom no govern-
The legend of the hoaxer hoaxed The succession
to the throne of Greece Villiers de 1'Isle Adam a
candidate for the throne" Le Lion de Numidie"
"The Moor of Venice" Nemesis An imperial
audience The Marquis and Baron Rothschild
The Due de Bassano and Villiers de ITsle Adam
The last a<5l of the comedy A poet's conclusion
Death of Aunt Kerinou Separation.
HERE is concerning this epoch in
the life of Villiers a wonderful
legend which has remained cele-
brated in the literary world ; but
in passing from mouth to mouth it has gone
through so many transformations, and fallen so
far from the truth, that it is necessary to re-esta-
blish it in its pristine simplicity. My readers
will perceive that the vis comica of the terrible
joke of which the young writer was a viclim
had no need of graces and embellishments.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 71
Here some words of preamble are needed,
and my frivolous pen must needs make an
excursion into the grave and wearisome realm
of contemporary political history. Be re-
assured, my reader ! it shall be but a short one.
In the year of grace, 1863, then, a time
at which the imperial government shone
with its brightest radiance, the Hellenic nation
happened to be in want of a king. The
great powers who protected the heroic little
nation to which Byron had sacrificed his life,
France, Russia, and England, looked about
for a young constitutional tyrant whom they
might confer on their prottgte. Napoleon III.
had at that epoch the casting vote in the
council, and men were asking themselves
anxiously whether he would put forward a
candidate, and whether that candidate would
be a Frenchman. Briefly, the newspapers
were full of stories about, and comments on
this absorbing subject : the Greek question
was the question of the hour. The news-
mongers could fearlessly give free rein to
their imagination, for whilst the other nations
seemed to have fixed their definite choice on
72 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
the son of the King of Denmark, the emperor
so justly named "the taciturn prince " by the
friend of his dark days, Charles Dickens
the emperor, I say, held his peace, and let
his decision be waited for.
Thus matters stood, when one morning
early in March the tall marquis burst like a
whirlwind into the dreary drawing-room in the
Rue St. Honore brandishing a newspaper, and
in an indescribable state of excitement, soon
to be shared by all his family. This was the
strange news registered that day in the
columns of several Parisian newspapers :
" We learn on good authority that a new
candidature has just been announced for the
throne of Greece. The candidate this time
is a French grand seigneur well known all
over Paris the Comte Philippe Auguste
de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, last descendant of
the august line which has produced the heroic
defender of Rhodes and the first Grand Master
of the Knights of Malta. At the emperor's
last private reception, one of his intimates
having inquired concerning the probability of
this candidate's success, his majesty smiled
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 73
enigmatically. The new aspirant to kingly
honours has our best wishes."
Those who have followed me so far will
easily imagine the effe<5t produced on imagi-
nations like those of the Villiers family by
such a perusal. Already they beheld their
Matthias entering Athens, dressed in black
velvet, proudly seated on a white charger,
surrounded by his splendid Palikares !
As for Matthias himself, he took it all very
seriously, though he doubted of ultimate
" Sire ! " said the old marquis gravely, as
he majestically buttoned his coat, worn white
with wear, " money is the one thing you want !
Your majesty's father will see you get it !
Farewell ! I am going to see Rothschild ! "
He went, and was seen no more for a week.
But let me quickly explain the origin of
this extraordinary adventure. It might truly
be called the hoaxer hoaxed, with the quali-
fication, however, that the hoaxee would
never believe in a hoax at all.
In the days when Villiers was the chief
figure of the little circle at the Rue de Douai
74 VILLIERS DE. L'ISLE ADAM.
and of some literary caboulets (as were then
called certain cafes where writers congregated),
he had a rival, a splendid fellow with pale
skin, eagle eyes, and a thick black head of
hair, whom the Parnassians nicknamed " Le
Lion de Numidie," although he only hailed
from Montpellier. I will call him by no other
name, for since those days the lion has clipped
his mane, cut his claws, and done public
penance to society ! Gifted with a wonderful
constitution, with delightful spirits and good
temper, with a much-dreaded shrewdness and
surprising powers of observation, this jolly
Colossus would have been invulnerable, had
he not been afflicted with a vanity as strange
as it was unwarrantable.
The Numidian lion had pretensions to
being an admirable aclor, and never lost an
opportunity of showing off his talent for
mimicry and his powers of declamation.
Villiers, who had already practised that ter-
rible, cold, and serious irony, which makes all
the weaknesses of human nature its target,
soon perceived the weak place in his jolly
boon companion's armour. He longed for a
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 75
joke, insinuated himself into the lion's good
graces, and by degrees succeeded in putting
him off his guard. He then explained to him
that some friends of his were desirous of
playing the " Moor of Venice " on a stage hired
for that purpose, but that they could find no
one capable of undertaking the part of Othello,
and the more so as it was absolutely neces-
sary, to keep the local colour, that the aclor
should stain his face and arms black. " Don't
let that hinder you," cried his friend boldly ;
" I am your man ; here is my hand on it!"
With astonishing patience and gravity, Villiers
helped his friend to rehearse, and told him
where to get " made up." Then a dress
rehearsal was called, to take place at the
usual trysting-place of the band of poets. I
need not say there never had been a question
of playing Shakespeare's masterpiece, but,
all the same, Villiers had summoned all the
poets, "horse, foot, and dragoon." When
Othello, in his splendid dress, his hands and
face as black as those of the King of Dahomey,
made his entrance, a general shout went up at
the sight of the Numidian lion, who richly
76 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
justified his title. The Prover^al was too
sharp not to perceive at once that he had
been duped. He took it well, and was the
first to laugh at his own strange get-up, but
anyone who intercepted the look with which
he favoured the descendant of the Grand
Master of the Order of Malta could have
foretold his speedy revenge. He remained
Villiers' friend, and in his turn discovered
the defe6l in his coat of mail. Then it was
that he laid a snare for his vanity, his patri-
cian pride, his foolish family pretensions,
which almost betokened genius. The son of
the treasure- seeker was to be seduced by the
mirage of the throne and royal crown then
sparkling on the horizon ! The perpetrator of
the hoax had made his calculations admirably :
the candidature of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam
could not seem anything abnormal to the
public. The name was illustrious and high-
sounding ; it was not impossible, therefore,
that the sovereign, desirous of placing on the
Greek throne a monarch who owed every-
thing to him, might choose amongst the
flower of the French nobility a person on
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 77
whom he designed to bestow a crown. The
thing only became improbable, laughable,
and grotesque, when one knew the two
chief personages, the king, and the king's
Many people were taken in, and the ex-
pectant king soon received the usual avalanche
of begging letters.
Our Matthias did not remain idle, nor dally
with his golden dream. This throne which
glistened with gems and precious stones
through the blue smoke-clouds of his ciga-
rette, tempted him much more than he
acknowledged to himself. Instigated by his
good friends, who were laughing at him in
their sleeves, he drew up a request for an audi-
ence, and sent it to the Tuileries. Some days
afterwards, a magnificent estafette drew up
before the house in the Rue St. Honore, and
gave to the astonished concierge a letter sealed
with the imperial arms, and addressed to the
Comte Villiers de 1'Isle Adam; the audience
was granted, and fixed for an early date.
For the first and only time in his life, the
poet found a tailor who gave him credit. He
78 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
ordered a sumptuous evening coat, with all its
appendages, and then he shut himself up in
his own room, to study before the glass his
entry, his gestures, and the speech which he
would address to the sovereign.
On his side, the terrible Southern, in whose
ear Nemesis ceaselessly whispered, did not
lose his time. Every day one or two news-
papers contained some paragraph concerning
the " French candidate." It was announced
that the emperor was about to receive him :
it was related that his father, the marquis,
had had a long and cordial interview with
Baron Rothschild. But where the Numidian
lion really showed the wisdom of the serpent,
was in his manner of preparing his victim for
the impending audience. The writer, who was
then in the throes of his novel, " Isis," had
his imagination filled with those gloomy ad-
ventures which give such a romantic and
mysterious colour to the history of Italian
principalities in the sixteenth century. He
dreamt of nothing but palaces full of murderous
snares, whose walls opened, whose ceilings
descended, whose floors gaped, to stifle or en-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 79
tomb the imprudent mortals who allowed
themselves to be allured into the luxurious
and fatal dwellings of tyrants and princes.
The contriver of the trick took admirable
advantage of the predisposition of his viclim ;
he reminded him that the familiars of the
Tuileries were not over-scrupulous ; he told
him a heap of tragic anecdotes relating to the
morrow of the second of December, and hav-
ing as their scene this palace, which, accord-
ing to him, was as full of trap-doors as an
operatic stage. Many people, he insinuated,
who had entered that little door on the Place
du Carrousel have never been seen to come
out ; so let Villiers beware, for if any favourite
had an interest in his disappearance, a trap-
door, a dungeon, might open suddenly under
his feet. Above all, he must absolutely refuse
to explain himself to any but the emperor
At last the great day came, and poor Mat-
thias, very pale and agitated in his brand-new
clothes, got into a hired carriage, and drove
away to the Tuileries ; before starting, he
made his will, and sent it to my father.
8o VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
It is difficult to tell exactly what passed at
the Tuileries : Villiers' version is so impressed
with romance that it is not easy to disentangle
the real from the imaginary. What seems
certain is that the poet was received by the
Due de Bassano, who at that time fulfilled
the functions of Grand Chamberlain of the
Palace. Doubtless the old diplomatist tried
to fathom Matthias's intentions by clever
questioning, but he found himself confronted
by a personage unlike any he had ever met
in his long and adventurous career. As for
the poet, his already heated imagination soon
carried him into oblivion of his present where-
abouts, to believe himself the hero of one of
those dark and mysterious court intrigues, the
dramatic histories of which he had lately been
perusing. He refused to utter, would scarcely
put his foot down without insulting precautions,
responded coldly to the advances of his inter-
locutor, upon whom he cast glances and deeply
significant smiles which were quite unintel-
ligible to the chamberlain, and finally stated,
courteously but firmly, that he was resolved
to speak to nobody but the emperor himself.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 81
" I must ask you, then, to take the trouble of
coming another time, count," said the duke,
rising; "his majesty is engaged, and com-
missioned me to receive you."
There is no doubt that the chamberlain
took the man of genius for a lunatic, and, in
spite of my admiration for the author of
" L'Eve Future," I cannot wonder at it. Vil-
liers used to relate that he was escorted
through the apartments to the staircase by
two muscular and threatening fellows dressed
in black, and that he expected every moment
to be cast into a dungeon. " For," he would
add, " I saw, the instant I entered, that Bas-
sano had been gained over to the son of the
King of Denmark, and that his obje6t in sum-
moning me to the Tuileries was to get rid of an
inconvenient and dangerous rival ; but my cold-
ness, my dignity, the good style and modera-
tion of my words, doubtless impressed the
Sbirri, and I was allowed to depart in peace."
The claimant went home with hanging
head, in great terror of the secret police,
fancying he was going to be arrested, thrown
into prison, and perhaps put to death.
82 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
He barricaded himself into his room, and
never left it for a week. At last the news-
papers put an end to his anxieties and his
ambitious hopes, by announcing the final
nomination of his fortunate rival, the second
son of King Christian IX., who ascended
the throne of Greece under the title of
The last a<5l of the comedy had been played
out, the curtain fell, but the principal actor
never would believe that it was all mere fancy.
He never doubted but that he had had the
most serious chance of success ; and to the
last day of his life he would describe, in his
picturesque and glowing conversation, the
splendid things that he would have accom-
plished, if fortune had favoured him, and he
had become king.
Reader, you may laugh ! but yet, would
much harm have been done ? would the
Greeks have been less happy, if a gentle poet
had borne the sceptre of the country which
saw Aphrodite's immortal beauty rise from
the sparkling, foam-crested sea-waves the
country of Homer, of ^Eschylus, of Anacreon,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 83
of Aristophanes ? Doubtless, the reign of
Matthias would not have resembled that of
our late highly-respectable Louis Philippe,
but perhaps, fired by his genius, the Greece
of Miltiades and Themistocles, of Marathon
and Salamis, might have felt her ancient soul
stir within her ! The poet's kingdom is not
alas ! of this world, and his crown is a thorny
one. And what, indeed, is a throne that it
should be so eagerly desired ? The hero of
this adventure has told us in some very beau-
tiful lines : let them form the conclusion of
this veracious history.
" Un trone pour celui qui reve,
Un trone est bien sombre aujourd'hui.
Faite des vanites humaines,
A ses pieds saignent bien des haines,
Souvent il voile bien des peines !
La foule obscure reste au seuil :
Sapin couvert d'hermines blanches.
II a sceptre et lauriers pour branches ;
II est forme de quatre planches
Absolument comme un cercueil ! "
1 " To him whose life is full of dreams
A throne is now a dreary seat.
Summit of earthly vanity,
By bloody hatreds girt about,
84 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
The old aunt, Mdlle. Kerinou, never rose
from the great canopied bed in which I saw
her at the end of that memorable year, for the
first and only time in my life. Her pure and
simple soul took wing to the gardens of Para-
dise, escorted by all her hopes and illusions.
The departure of the good old lady was a ter-
rible event for the Villiers de 1'Isle family ;
up to now, thanks to her income, it had been
possible to pursue the jog-trot journey of life
without too many jolts, but her fortune, being
for the most part in an annuity, necessarily
died with her, and at her death these poor
Bretons, exiled in cruel, terrible Paris, saw
the ghost of penury rise up before them.
The dwelling in the Rue St. Honore was
given up, and the furniture sold. The mar-
quise went back to the country, in the hope
of raising some funds ; the marquis was a quia.
He had (in connection with a wild society for
It cloaks full oft the bitterest griefs,
Unrecked of by the common herd.
It's like some ermine-covered pine,
Whose branches crown and sceptre make,
And coffin-like, the thing is built,
Hollow, and formed of planks of wood ! "
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 85
working some problematic bitumen lakes)
made acquaintance with the police court. I
hasten to add that he left it with head eredl
and clean hands, but his pockets were utterly
empty. Father and son separated, and Villiers
went to live alone, to begin that sad pilgrimage
through Parisian lodging-houses, which lasted
all his life, and closed in the Rue Oudinot, under
the roof of the Brotherhood of St. J ean de Dieu.
Soon after, I left Paris and the College
Rollin, where I had completed my studies, to
enter an English university. For me, too,
the battle of life was beginning. Thence-
forward I only heard of Villiers from time to
time. I used to read his books, which he sent
to my father, and often the newspapers re-
ported his eccentricities and his deep sayings
f.o me. On that interior stage which we all
bear within us, and which men call memory,
he appeared to me as a legendary personage,
full of strange attraction, and I liked to make
my father tell me every story he knew about
our cousin Matthias.
Certainly I little thought then, that these
recollections and anecdotes would help me in
86 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
my riper age to call up and bring to life the
genial figure of the great Breton artist.
Neither did I suspe<5t that, some years later,
this great artist would become my own most
revered teacher, my surest, most faithful, and
most precious friend. But so it was to be.
During three years, from 1877 to 1880, we
lived side by side in an absolute and constant
intellectual intimacy. And if, even now, the
love of the ideal and of the imperishably
beautiful consoles me for much that is horrible,
much that is wretched, much that is mediocre
and unworthy, it is to Villiers de 1'Isle Adam
that I owe it ; he it is, who, on those dark
nights, when our feet trod the mud of Lutetia,
eloquently pointed out to me the starry way.
In order then to conclude these notes, it
remains for me to relate that part of the poet's
life of which I was the almost daily witness.
My return to Paris The Hotel d'Orleans My search
for Villiers Our reunion The earlier stages
of his lawsuit The historical drama of "Perrinet
Leclerc " Paul Cleves, director of the Porte
St. Martin Theatre The Marechal Jean de 1'Isle
Adam, according to Messrs. Lockroy and Anicet
Bourgeois Villiers' fury Letters to the press A
summons A memorandum Intervention of M. de
Villiers Provocation A duel arranged Settlement
on the ground Result of the aclion Biographer's
reservations Documentary evidence.
OWARDS the autumn of 1876, at
the close of a long journey in
Switzerland, I returned to Paris,
my eyes still dazzled by the
glamour of virgin snows, inaccessible peaks,
glistening glaciers, and the great blue lake
wherein melancholy Chillon reflects its gloomy
keep. Through that land of mountain, fir-
88 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
wood, and torrent, the spirit of my father,
whose death I yet mourned, had been with
me everywhere, teaching me the better to
appreciate and admire the sublimity of those
landscapes for which he had always had a sort
of passionate fondness. My entry into France
was still haunted by the paternal presence,
and I hurried to the old Hotel d' Orleans,
where we had spent so many years together,
while I, alas ! was too young and frivolous to
profit by the counsels of that wise and gene-
rous mind. Whether it was by chance, or by
a delicate attention on the part of the old host
of the inn, I know not, but I was given my
father's old room, and my first night was
haunted by the shadows of the past. During
those silent watches I lived through many an
episode of my schoolboy days again, and many
familiar faces passed before my eyes, some
faintly looming in the shadow and as quickly
disappearing, others clearly outlined and con-
stantly recurring. Amongst these last, the
big fair head of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam con-
stantly reappeared, his eyes seeming to gaze
on me intently, and to reproach me with my
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 89
long neglect. Ah, no ! I had not, indeed,
forgotten him. But the adventures and wor-
ries of life had up to this prevented me from
seeking him out, and, since the childish days
already referred to, I had never beheld him.
But I resolved not to leave Paris this time
without finding him, and binding our two
selves together with bonds as strong and as
affectionate as those which had once united
him and my father.
The next evening, before the dinner hour,
I sought him along the boulevard. Every
habitiUt every lounger, from the Cafe" de la
Paix to the Cafe de Madrid, knew Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, but nobody knew where he lived,
nor could tell where he might be found. He
was, so they said, peculiarly a night-bird, and
almost all those who mentioned him to me had
made his acquaintance at unearthly hours,
in out-of-the-way brasseries. None of this
information was of much service to me, and I
was beginning rather to despair, when a sud-
den downpour of rain drove me to take refuge
in the entry of the Passage Gouffroy. I was
mechanically watching the play of light and
90 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
shade caused by the shower, when suddenly,
and without an instant's hesitation, in spite of
the lapse of years, in spite of the change which
the fight for existence had wrought in his
appearance, I recognized him ! There are
some strong individualities which age, care,
even sickness, cannot alter. They are un-
changeable. And Villiers was one of these.
He was coming into the passage from the
rear, a big bundle of manuscript under his
arm, with that elastic yet hesitating tread I
so well remembered, taking quick, short steps,
looking preoccupied and flurried at once, as
he passed through the throng.
Poor great poet ! judging by his hat, which
was worn red with age, the thin threadbare
frock-coat which concealed his shirt, the
trousers with their frayed hem, Fortune, that
jade, had treated him with condign scorn.
What matter! As he came towards me, I
read neither discouragement nor despair upon
his ageing features. There was the same pale
uncertain blue eye, lost in its dream, and
beneath the fair moustache, already turning
grey, the full mouth smiled as at some secret
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 91
vision. He was, in good sooth, far from earth
at that moment, and there seemed to me some-
thing proud and noble, amidst that jostling,
pushing crowd of wet, muddy, common-look-
ing passers-by, in the scornful indifference of
the great thinker to the human rabble through
which he passed, all unseeing, like the sleep-
walker of some oriental tale.
As he drew near to me, the memory of our
first meeting in the dining-room of the old
house at Fougeres came back to me, and
touching his shoulder gently, I addressed him
with a slight variation of the words he used
when he found me, a child in disgrace, eating
my solitary breakfast at the deserted family
board : " Good morning, cousin ! you don't
know me. I am your cousin Robert !"
He started like a man suddenly roused from
sleep, and raised his eyes to mine. His usually
lustreless glance brightened ; we fell into each
other's arms, and embraced shamelessly coram
populo. Doubtless Heaven smiled on our re-
union, for the setting sun was making the
wet pavements and roofs shine again, as arm
in arm we went out upon the boulevards.
92 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
It was during that first evening's converse,
which cemented the friendship of our man-
hood's years, that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam
recounted to me the earlier stages of the
strange action which he was about to bring
against the Lockroy family and the heirs of
the melodramatic playwright, Anicet Bour-
geois a most fantastic lawsuit, which
amused and interested all Paris for several
months, and of which I desire now to relate
the apparently improbable incidents.
It happened, then, one winter evening in
1876, that my cousin Matthias was dreaming
along the Boulevard du Crime, when, as he
passed before the Porte St. Martin Theatre,
its facade, lighted up as it usually was on
important occasions, attracted his attention.
He drew near to the advertisement boards,
and started on seeing, below the title of the
play of which a reproduction was to be given
that night, " Perrinet Leclerc," an historical
drama in five acts, by Messrs. Lockroy and
Anicet Bourgeois, the name of his own illus-
trious ancestor, the Marshal Jean de Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam, occupying a line by itself.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 93
" What ! " roared the poet, " they have put
the glorious marshal on the stage unknown
to me? Ha! ha! We'll have some fun!"
and he hastened to the box office.
The Porte St. Martin Theatre was at that
time under the management of a very worthy
fellow of the name of Paul Cleves, who had
been in his time a good actor, and who,
though not literary himself, was full of
respectful admiration for the literary merits
of others. He had a reverence not unmixed
with awe for the eccentric genius of Villiers,
and the moment he saw him he hurried with
outstretched hands to meet him and place
him in the managerial box, so that he might
not lose a word nor a gesture of the actor
personifying that famous warrior whose de-
scendant the poet was. But, after the second
act, Villiers reappeared in the unfortunate
Cleves' private room, pale, trembling, and
bristling with fury. "Sir!" he cried, with a
tragic gesture, "two ignorant and conceited
clowns, Lockroy and Bourgeois, have en-
deavoured to degrade one of the most illus-
trious warriors of the fourteenth century,
94 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
whose name it is my glory to bear, and
whose reputation it is my duty to defend !
You have allowed this infamy to be com-
mitted, and I call upon you, sir, to withdraw
the play to-morrow."
" But, my dear Villiers, it is impossible ! "
cried Cleves, when he had recovered from his
profound astonishment, " consider ! it would be
my ruin. It would be certain bankruptcy !
my engagements "
"Ruin, bankruptcy, engagements! These
are nothing to me. You should have
warned me before you accepted this non-
" I never accepted it. It has been in the
repertory since 1834!"
" Enough, sir. I understand you to refuse ?
Very good, I shall apply to the authors the
authors, I say. Where are the authors ? "
" They are dead !"
" Well for them ! But they must have left
children, heirs, representatives. That cur,
that Simon, whose name is not even Lockroy,
has a descendant who has made stir enough in
this third Republic of yours ! Well, we shall
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 95
see ! For the last time, Cleves, do you refuse
to withdraw the play ? "
The Unlucky manager had become speech-
less, but he made a sign with his head which
seemed to signify that it was impossible to
grant such a request.
" Very well, then," said the poet, " you
and your accomplices shall hear from me ! "
And he went out in a fury.
Those who can recollect Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam's idolatrous worship for the memory of
his ancestors will understand this outbreak of
rage when I state that this unlucky so-called
historical drama by Messrs. Lockroy and
Bourgeois represented the Marechal de 1'Isle
Adam as a disloyal nobleman and an abomi-
nable traitor traitor, not in favour of the Duke
of Burgundy, nor of the Duke of Orleans,
but traitor to his own country, to his poor
mad king, delivering both over to the English
power, and aiding Henry V. to place upon his
own head the crown torn from that of the
rightful sovereign. All this was absolutely
contrary to the truth. Jean de 1'Isle Adam,
the friend and right-hand man of the Duke
96 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
of Burgundy, was, it is true, the most ardent
partisan of John the Bold, and took possession
of Paris in his name. As to the English,
Jean refused the splendid offers of Henry V.,
who cast him into the Bastille, whence he
only emerged after that prince's death.
Thenceforward he warred ceaselessly against
the British, from whom he recaptured Pon-
toise in 1435. Such are the historical facts
of the case. But the authors of " Perrinet
Leclerc" cared little for that. To those
makers of melodramas, history was but a
mine to supply their own lack of imagina-
tion, and its personages merely obliging
dummies, to be dressed up in glory or
infamy, according to the needs of their case.
They wanted a traitor, and they simply took
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, in all good faith,
never dreaming that there would appear, five
hundred years after the fulfilment of the
events they were putting on the stage, in this
fin-de-siecle and gaping Paris of ours, a poet
who was ready to make himself the champion
and the vigorous defender of his outraged
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 97
Never did Villiers show such activity, such
physical and moral energy, as in the course of
this business. For my own part, my know-
ledge of him leads me to the opinion that, in
spite of all his indignation, he rather enjoyed
the adventure. The excitement of the judi-
cial struggle, the newspaper polemics, the
ransacking of libraries both far and near, put
a new interest into his life, and freed his mind
for a while from the dreams which so inces-
santly haunted it. And that arch-scoffer must
have felt a curious secret amusement in
obliging all that army of solicitors, barristers,
judges, and their deputies, to occupy them-
selves with the affairs of an illustrious old
gentleman who had been dead for four hun-
dred and fifty years, to decipher the quaint
and incomprehensible manuscripts of the
thirteenth century, and to busy themselves,
under the reign of Grevy, Wilson, and
Co., with the concerns of Charles VI. the
Bienaime, of John the Bold, and of the fatally
fascinating Isabeau of Bavaria.
But to begin at the beginning. The very
morning after that memorable performance,
98 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
there appeared in several daily papers a
haughty and indignant letter from the last of
the De 1'Isle Adams, in which he brilliantly
vindicated his right to defend his illustrious
relative from opprobrium. He blasted in a few
scorching phrases, conceived in ineffable scorn
for all dealers in such second-hand literary
wares, the work of the two unlucky collabora-
tors ; and he finally declared that he was
about to appeal to the laws of the country to
obtain for them the chastisement of their
crime of treason against the national glory.
There was much giggling along the boule-
vards at the poet's new freak. The collateral
heirs of the acting rights of the play turned a
deaf ear to his threat, and " Perrinet Leclerc "
still held the bills, its success much increased
by this fresh puff. Forward, then, the
officers, the formalities, the dusty papers, all
the creaking machinery of the law ! A clever
and intelligent young barrister, an acquain-
tance of Villiers, eagerly seized on this oppor-
tunity of distinguishing himself; for this action
was to stir both the law courts and the boule-
vards, and those who had to do with it soon
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 99
The representatives of Lockroy and of
Anicet Bourgeois had to file their answer to
the summons duly served upon them a sum-
mons praying- that they might be forbidden to
continue the performances of a play wherein
they libelled and calumniated the direcl; ances-
tor of the plaintiff, "the said Philippe Auguste
Matthias de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, man of
letters, which summons has been personally
delivered at the defendants' house. Here-
with a copy, whereof the price," etc., etc., etc.
The defendants' answer was rather clever.
They asked the tribunal to rule that the
plaintiff's plea was inadmissible : firstly, be-
cause he offered no proof of his boasted direct
descent from the illustrious house of Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam ; secondly, because the chro-
nicles of the time, and notably that of the Monk
of St. Denis, authorized the writers of " Per-
rinet Leclerc " in presenting the conduct of
the Marshal de 1'Isle Adam during the civil
wars of the reign of Charles VI. in an un-
favourable light ; thirdly, because the said
Marshal de 1'Isle Adam being an historical
personage, any writer might criticise or praise
ioo VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
him, according to conscience or personal
opinion, without being liable to any action on
that score. Thus the fight began.
And now, for some weeks, Matthias was
undiscoverable. He buried himself in the
libraries and the archives, amongst which his
clear mind called up all that gloomy and
romantic period which began at the infancy
of Charles VI. and ended on the day when
Jeanne d'Arc led the weak-kneed Charles VI I.
to Rheims, to be anointed king. When the
lawsuit began, nothing remained to Villiers
of the family inheritance. Pressed by poverty,
father and son had parted with everything ;
but they still preserved the precious family
archives, and the poet possessed irrefragable
proof of his descent.
When, therefore, he had sufficiently studied
the formidable heap of documents bearing on
the ten years of civil war which stained the
close of the reign of Charles VI., he prayed
leave to support his request against the
authors of " Perrinet Leclerc " : firstly, by the
proof, resting on authentic records, of his de-
scent from that Marshal de 1'Isle Adam whose
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 101
honour he claimed to defend ; secondly, by
proving that no contemporary chronicler gave
to his ancestor that odious character which
Messrs. Lockroy and Bourgeois had dared to
make him play in the history of his time.
And, he added, if it was true that the so-called
Chronicle of the Monk of St. Denis did con-
tain a sentence which permitted any doubt on
that score, it was established, on the other
hand, that these memoirs had no character
for authenticity, that they were held in sus-
picion by all competent historians, and that,
in any case, it was sufficient to read the manu-
script to be convinced that it was a partial
work, and that its author belonged to that
faction which was hostile to the Duke of
Burgundy, the friend of De 1'Isle Adam.
To this second appeal Villiers added a long
memorandum, addressed to the judges. I do
not know what has become of this manuscript.
I hope that those persons who have under-
taken, with so much zeal and devotion, the
posthumous publication of the works of the
author of "Axel," may have it in their pos-
session. In it the great writer appears in a
102 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
new light. This sketch of the life of the
Marshal de 1'Isle Adam is a masterpiece of
clearness and style, a gifted and magnificent
word-picture of the end of the thirteenth cen-
tury, a strong and closely-reasoned piece of
work, in which the fervent eloquence of his
pleading for the thesis he defends never fetters
the critical and investigating faculty of its
Thus matters stood when I joined Villiers
in Paris. The adversaries were armed at all
points, and only waited the close of the vaca-
tion to go before the courts.
All at once, an unexpected event, a tragi-
comic incident, gave a fresh interest to the
I have related, in the early pages of these
recollections, how a family bearing the name
of Villiers, but which had shown no proof of
direct descent from the Grand Master of the
Knights of Malta, had been authorized, at the
time of the return of the Bourbons, to add the
name of L'Isle Adam to its own patronymic.
Just as our Villiers was emerging from his
tent, armed cap a pit, and lance in rest, to
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 103
defend his ancestral glory and good fame
against the calumnies of two playwrights, the
representative of this other family, a young
officer, very proud of the great name he bore,
and exceedingly ignorant, as it seems, of his
real origin, returned from Africa. Honestly
believing himself the scion of those heroes
who had shed glory on the name of De 1'Isle
Adam, his rage and stupefaction may be
imagined when, hardly had he arrived home,
ere his friends and relations placed before him
various newspapers, which reported with much
comment, and wit seasoned with Attic salt, the
particulars of the action brought by the high-
born poet against the guilty authors of " Per-
rinet Leclerc." Incredible as it seems in
these days, when the press penetrates every-
where, the young warrior appears to have
ignored till then the existence of one of the
best-known literary men in Paris. He fancied
the author of " Isis " to be some scribbling
adventurer who had picked up for himself, out
of history, a name which he believed to be ex-
tinct. In the heat of his indignation, he wrote
a letter to a great daily paper, and as the
104 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
officer knew more about the cavalry sword-
exercise than about the amenities of our
beautiful French language, his communication
was at once plain-spoken, rude, and aggres-
sive, claiming his right to bear the name of
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, and avowing that
any other person calling himself by that
name usurped it. This warlike missive soon
appeared, and forthwith all the venomous
small fry of the press, all the envious scrib-
blers, all the failures whom Villiers' talent
had overshadowed, and whom his bitter jests
had wounded, pounced upon this lucky wind-
fall. Along the boulevards, from the Made-
leine to the Gymnase, at the hour of the
absinthe queen, their little poisonous speeches
were to be heard on every side : " That poor
Villiers ! Don't you know ? Not De 1'Isle
Adam at all ! It was a name he took ! /
always thought so ! It seems he is really the
son of a small grocer at Guingamp."
Ah ! why cannot we sear the lips of slan-
derers with a red-hot iron ? Shame on those
dastards ! for this time at least they managed
to pierce my friend to the heart. All those
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 105
who knew him well, knew that beneath his
strange exterior and his cold mask of scorn
Villiers had a noble ardent soul, which must
have suffered cruelly under the thousand
anonymous stings which were inflicted on his
pride. But the blood of the marshal and the
grand master boiled in his veins, and on the
very day of the insult the officer was waited
upon by two poet-friends of the writer, who
came from the Comte Philippe Auguste de
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam to demand reparation
for the outrage offered to their principal.
The adversary was brave, and accepted
without flinching the meeting which was
proposed to him ; and the seconds having
conferred, it was arranged that all should go,
armed with swords, the day after the next
following, on a little expedition to the neigh-
bourhood of Vesinet. Meanwhile, one of the
seconds of Matthias, a sensible man, though
a violent Parnassian, struck by the exceed-
ingly correct demeanour of the other party,
thought it might not be altogether useless to
submit to him certain genealogical proofs
which would demonstrate to him that right
io6 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
was not altogether on his side, as he fancied.
After a severe struggle he induced Villiers to
lend him those famous and precious family
documents for the space of twenty-four hours,
and sent them to the cavalry lieutenant with
an urgent request that he would read them
before the hour fixed for the meeting. The
result was amazing. M. de Villiers was a
loyal, good-hearted, and very chivalrous man.
He appeared on the ground at the appointed
hour, advanced towards the real Villiers de
1'Isle Adam, made him a bow, and offered
him the most courteous apology, adding that
it was only on the preceding evening that he
had learnt the truth. It was worth hearing
Villiers, with his tragic gestures, and the per-
petual wagging of his front fair lock, retail
the incidents of this coup de theatre. " Sir ! "
he would cry, " my sword dropped from my
hand, when I heard this pale young man, with
his brave and resigned face, tell me, with an
evident effort, that, French officer as he was,
he would rather pass for a coward than fight
in support of a lie. I opened my arms. I
folded him to my heart. I told him he was
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 107
worthy to be allied with the illustrious dead
whose representative I was ; and in my
father's name and my own, I authorized, nay,
I besought him to continue to bear the name
of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam!"
But everything, even lawsuits, must come
to an end ; and one fine morning the judges
gave their decision in the extraordinary
case of " L'Isle Adam versus Simon, alias
Lockroy, and Anicet Bourgeois." As my
reader will be prepared to learn, the tribunal
refused the poor poet's appeal, deeming it
inadmissible because, as the marshal was
historical property, every author had a right
to show him in whatever light suited him
best ; especially when he based his judgment,
as in the case of the writers of " Perrinet
Leclerc," on the evidence of contemporary
documents and memoirs, such as the Chronicle
of the Monk of St. Denis. But one conso-
lation Villiers had. The preamble of the
judgment established those direct ties of
descent which made him the last represen-
tative of that famous and heroic warrior who
was the friend of the great Duke of Burgundy.
io8 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
When I learnt these events from the poet's
lips, they were already in the limbo of the
Were I not possessed with an instinctive
and not altogether unreasonable horror of
foot-notes, I would inflict one on my readers,
a propos to this trial, to state that I have
related the whole of it from recollection a
recollection graven upon my memory by the
picturesque recitals of my gifted and much
regretted cousin. In thus summing up, with-
out actually vouching for the facts of the
story, I trust I have not trangressed in any
particular against the truth. But in any case
I shall be very glad to accept any verification
which may be kindly submitted to me.
I think further, that I shall do no preju-
dice to the memory of Villiers, if I frankly
confess that I entertain some serious doubt
concerning the alleged handsome retraction
made by his opponent on the scene of
the intended duel. The poet was in the
habit of dramatizing all the incidents of his
daily life into enchanting stories. Their
groundwork was generally true, but he
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 109
would arrange the scene, invent incidents,
and create personages, in obedience appa-
rently to his aesthetic instincl:, or perhaps
rather to his wild innate longing to mystify
his audience. In this particular case my
suspicion is supported by the following suc-
cincl: and nobly-expressed letter, addressed to
him by his adversary, and which, necessarily,
put an end to their difference. At all events
this document proves that our author was in
"February i6t/i, 1877.
" I can only bow before the incontest-
ably authentic title-deeds which you have
been so good as to communicate to me, and
which indeed establish unanswerably your
descent from that family of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam whose name is written in such glorious
characters upon the pages of our history, and
in whose ranks figures the Marshal Jean,
whose memory, in spite of what anyone may
say, remains above all suspicion.
" This does not, however, alter the fa6l that
no VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
a royal ordinance, dated September 7, 1815,
and inserted in the ' Bulletin des Lois,' autho-
rizes my grandfather, Vicomte Joseph-Gabriel,
son of Francois- 1 gnace de Villiers des Champs,
and of Dame Deshere le Borgue de Villement,
his wife, to add to his name of Villiers that of
De 1'Isle Adam.
" There appears to me to be no objecl: to
be gained by going into the genealogy of my
family, which has given knights and com-
manders to the Order of St. Louis and
marshals to France, which is allied to the
Rohans, etc., etc.
" And, in conclusion, if, contrary to my
expectations, the explanations contained in
this letter do not appear to you to suffice,
pray be assured that I hold myself entirely
at your disposal.
(Signed] "G. VILLIERS DE L'!SLE ADAM."
While I am about quoting the documents
bearing on this curious business, the reader
may be glad that I should conclude by giving
the principal passages of the fine letter written
by Villiers to the newspapers of the day, in
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. in
answer to the mean and spiteful attacks of
which he was then the object.
"Paris (undated, probably January, 1877).
" To the Editor of
" This is my answer to the article you
have published concerning me. I desire that
it may suffice for all those of your colleagues
of the press, who have been good enough to
devote their precious time to me, and busy
themselves with my name, during the past
" It has been claimed that my sole object
in bringing an action against the proprietors
of the play ' Perrinet Leclerc,' was to establish
the genealogical succession of my own family.
Now I may remark that for eight-and-thirty
years I committed the grave indiscretion of
never giving that question a thought, believ-
ing it (with others whose duty calls them to
consider it) so clearly established that I could
afford to smile at any discussion of the sub-
ject. I may further remark that it was only
ii2 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
the request of counsel on the other side
which obliged me to produce any such proofs
at all. It seems strange, then, that this re-
proach should be made to me by the very
adversaries who attacked me on this point at
the moment when I myself was about to
desist from the struggle.
" It has been asserted that there is a gap in
the sequence of my family genealogy. Now
genealogy is an exacl: science, which no more
admits of a mistake than does algebra. In it
' five centuries ' mean nothing. They should
have been described as ' twelve generations.'
" The records of the Order of Malta, in
which the whole nobility of France and of
Europe are concerned, are indisputable evi-
dence all over the world, and that Order would
not give a careless decision concerning the
descendants of a Grand Master such as the
one whose name I bear.
"That a clerk should write a 3 instead of a
9 on the hasty copy of a title of the order,
and that (in spite of the opportunities given
by me during two years for free and open
investigation) such an error should be quoted
VILLIERS DE D'ISLE ADAM. 113
against the absolute authoritativeness of my
title-deeds, is, I repeat, merely a matter cal-
culated to raise a smile. In any case, I shall
bring the fa6ls before the French Record
" I descend from Jean de 1'Isle Adam as
directly as any of you gentlemen descends
from his own father ; and, in spite of the
' Chronique de St. Denis,' I have some reason
to be proud of the fa6l.
" I am asked what interest I had in vexing
my soul concerning a play which outrages his
pure and sacred memory ; and it is affirmed
that I simply desired to puff myself by doing
so. A man is but that which his own thoughts
make him. And for my only answer, I
would beg those who have had this thought
concerning me, to guard it preciously. They
are quite worthy of it, and I shall never care
to claim either their sympathy or esteem. . . .
" There is as much truth in this assertion
as in that which claims to have discovered a
gap in the direcl: succession of my family
about the year 1535. It is a wonderful thing
to note how lightheartedly a lawyer will cast
H4 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
doubt on the records of the Order of Malta,
which are an article of faith to the nobility of
the whole world ; on the signed attestations
whereby provincial bishops have recognized
three centuries of publicly-admitted family
rights ; on the signatures of ambassadors and
consuls, both French and English ; and on
that of the Minister of Justice himself!
" I have no right to submit myself to any
legal investigation on this head. An inves-
tigation of what ? Of my claims to be of
noble descent ? But the only course left to
the law courts themselves must be to bow to
those claims, which are established by the
only tribunal to which I can in honour appeal.
One alone, among the signatures with which
these parchments swarm, suffices to prove
my contention. The text of the ' Declaration
of the Order of Malta ' runs as follows :
' Notum facimus et in verbo veritatis attes-
tamur ut in judicio pleno ac indubia fides
adhibeatur. . . .
" ' We declare under our seal and that of the
Papal Bull published this day, that Armand
de I'lsle Adam, admitted a knight of this
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 115
Order, has proved his quarterings in the
most indisputable manner.
"'We, Caumartin, Intendant de Cham-
pagne, bear witness to the correctness of the
genealogy of, etc., etc., etc.
" 'We, Bishop of St. Brieuc, ourselves con-
nected through the family of De Verdalle
with the Knights of Malta, bear witness
that for the last three hundred years it has
been matter of public notoriety that, etc.,
" How can you expect any law court to
pronounce for or against, in such a matter ?
How can any newspaper chatter affect it?
Centuries have rolled by. You come in too
late. These are accomplished facts ! "
Le Pin Galant, near Bordeaux Arrival of Villiers
with his play" The New World "The American
centenary competition The character of Mistress
Andrews The legend of Ralph Evandale.
HILE Villiers was thus struggling
with the gentlemen of the wig and
gown in the Paris law courts, I
followed his movements from afar
with considerable anxiety. In my retirement
in one of those pretty one-storied houses
near Bordeaux which the people in the south
poetically term a " Chartreuse," I trembled as
I tore asunder the wrapper of my Paris paper
every morning, lest I should learn that Vil-
liers, whose fearfully over-excited condition
was well known to me, had given way to
some eccentricity or some dangerous act of
violence. I kept on writing to beseech him
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 117
to leave Paris, and to come and share my
solitude, redolent of the healthy odour of
the pine forests, enlivened by the impetuous
rush of the great river dotted with white and
fluttering sails, and ideal with its spreading
horizons bathed in the purple and gold of the
exquisite southern sunsets.
But, alas ! he wrapped himself in dis-
heartening silence, and his shadow fell not
on the snow-white steps which led to the
Pin Galant, as my temporary dwelling was
One day, however, the " Figaro " brought
me news of his speedy arrival, in the form of
a letter published on its first page, and bear-
ing his signature. I have not this document
before me, but I know that in it he refuted,
in his usual sarcastic style, some fresh per-
fidious insinuation concerning the imperfect
authenticity of the name he bore. The
last sentence of the letter, however, which
gave me a lively thrill of joy, is for ever
graven on my memory. I quote it, as being
exceedingly characteristic. " I am on the
point of starting for Pin Galant, not far
n8 VILLIERS DE LISLE ADAM.
from the Spanish frontier. Lovers of another
style of conversation, more silent than that of
human tongues, are requested to note this
He duly appeared a few days later, without
having otherwise announced himself.
It was on one of those torrid afternoons
known only to the inhabitants of the south,
that Villiers arrived on foot from the neigh-
bouring village, whither the omnibus from
Bordeaux had brought him. He was simply
dressed, in black kerseymere trousers, a loose
grey overcoat trimmed with fur ( ! ), and a
well-worn but shiny chimneypot hat. In his
hand he victoriously flourished a huge walk-
ing-stick. The big pockets of his unseason-
ably thick overcoat bulged in a manner which
alarmed me for their solidity. At first I
thought he was using them as a carpet-bag,
for he brought no sign of any other luggage
with him. But my mistake only lasted a few
minutes. Hardly had he entered, when,
after the first cordial greetings, he pulled out
of his vast pockets five thick manuscript
pamphlets, piling them one upon the other,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 119
and his white, prelatical hand waving with
the air of a bishop a sort of benedictory
gesture, he exclaimed, " Like Columbus at
the feet of his Spanish sovereign, even so lay
I the 'New World' at the feet of your
majesty and my good cousin ! " The books
contained, in good truth, the manuscript of
his magnificent drama in five acts, entitled
" Le Nouveau Monde," which had gained
the first place, the year before, in the com-
petition instituted in honour of the United
States, but which had not yet found an
opening on the Parisian stage.
Before relating the adventures of Villiers
and his manuscript at Bordeaux, I think it
will be of interest to scholars if I give some
explanation of the origin of this dramatic
work, which, in spite of its admirable qualities,
is almost unknown at this present time. In
1880 Villiers de 1'Isle Adam found a pub-
lisher bold enough to issue it at his own risk,
and his name deserves to be recorded. It
was M. Richard, printer and publisher, of
the Passage de 1'Opera. The pamphlet is
now almost out of print. Villiers had pre-
120 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
ceded his play by an "Address to the
Reader," to which I shall return later, in
its proper time and place, and by a very
short preface, which I quote in its entirety,
because it explains far better than I could
the peculiar circumstances which gave birth
to the work.
"In 1875 a dramatic competition was an-
nounced by the theatrical press of Paris. A
medal of honour, even a sum of 10,000 francs,
and other temptations, were offered to the
French dramatic author who should most
powerfully recall, in a work of four or five a6ls,
the episode of the proclamation of the inde-
pendence of the United States, the hundredth
anniversary of which fell on July 4th, 1876.
"The two examining juries were thus com-
posed. The first, of the principal critics of
the French theatrical press. The second, of
M. Victor Hugo, honorary president, Messrs.
Emile Augier, Octave Feuillet, and Ernest
Legouve, members of the French Academy,
Mr. Grenville Murray, representing the " New
York Herald," and M. Perrin, administrator-
general of the Theatre Fra^ais.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 121
" The preliminary jury were to select five
manuscripts; the final jury, to class these
manuscripts in what may be called their in-
" Six months were allowed for writing the
works, and about a hundred plays, signed
with mottoes only, were forwarded to the in-
ternational agency of M. Theodore Michaelis,
the inaugurator of the competition.
" More than a year elapsed while the gentle-
men of the theatrical press were examining
" The titles of the selected works were pub-
lished, and among them appeared that of
the ' Nouveau Monde.'
" Two more months passed by. At last,
on the 22nd of January, 1876, an official
notice signed by the superior jury informed
me that the ' Nouveau Monde,' had of all
the competing works, passed with most
honour through the double ordeal."
The attractions of the programme had
been well arranged to tempt any dramatic
author. Yet it was not the medal of honour,
nor even the dream of the ten thousand
122 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
francs, which induced the creator of Bonhomet
to compete. It was the proposed subject ;
above all, the conditions imposed for its treat-
ment. From the theatrical point of view,
Villiers had always dreamt of being an inno-
vator in historical drama. His idea was that
the characteristics of the nation, or the event
which was to be portrayed, should be im-
ported into the framework of some personal
intrigue, in which each individual of the
dramatis personce should personify in his lan-
guage, attitude, or actions, some one of the
numerous elements produced by the friction
of the incidents of the story. And in the
very terms of the programme by which the
competitors were bound, he found the oppor-
tunity for realizing this conception. For the
rules of the competition dictated, amongst
other obligations, that the work must be
written with special reference to July 4th,
1776; at the same time requiring a dramc
intime, in which the event of the 4th July
was only to be superadded to the story.
In the author's mind, then, " Le Nouveau
Monde" is, before all else, a symbolic drama,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 123
and each of its personages admirably repre-
sents the idea, the principle, the nation, of
which he or she is the mouthpiece. Thus, in
Lord Raleigh Cecil the author has incarnated
the principle of royalism, as in Stephen
Ashwell he has typified the principle of
liberty. "In my play," writes Villiers in his
preface, " Lord Cecil, under a veil of almost
totally imaginary circumstances, replaces and
sums up Lord Percy, General Howe, and
many others. He is, as it were, the golden
sovereign, stamped with the effigy of the
King of England."
It is hardly my place, in these personal
recollections, to endeavour to heighten the
merits of this work of Villiers. But I may
be permitted to lay stress on some details of
an original production, so little known to the
literary public, and yet so worthy of its atten-
tion. To those of us who are not yet emas-
culated by the terrible invasion of common-
place ideas, " Le Nouveau Monde" remains
one of the best constructed, deepest, and most
passionate dramas of the present day. It
has had the great honour of being sneered at
124 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
by M. Francisque Sarcey, who has besprinkled
the chara6ler of Mistress Andrews with the
salt of his Attic wit. To some superficial
minds this character may seem impressed
with romantic exaggeration. Yet it has been
learnedly imagined and laboriously premedi-
tated by a writer who was neither a novice
nor a simpleton in literature. Villiers fore-
saw that it would be exposed to the cheap
jests of those self-important gentry, the
critics of the weekly papers. In his "Address
to the Reader " he has taken pains to explain
his conception, and this page of his, full of
an intense personality, so wonderfully and
rhythmically written, cannot fail to charm
my readers. It seems to me it must
make every true artist desire to read that
" Nouveau Monde " so lately cut up by the
feuilletonists. Here it is :
" Mistress Andrews is the sombre reflection
of that feudalism of which Lord Cecil repre-
sents the brighter side, and I find myself
obliged to say a few words in explanation of
the almost fantastic character with which she
is endued. This woman's personality is
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 125
formed by the cohesion of intellectual and
sensitive elements of far too high an order to
be strictly human. Some peculiarities of the
character seem to be ultra-feminine. There-
fore, in order to legitimatize them in her
case, I have had to surround her with a
legendary halo, to make her a sort of
American Melusina. It has appeared to me
to be logically indispensable to the vitality,
even the possibility, of the character, to
endow her with a mysterious mark, actually
imprinted in her flesh, a gory impress which
shall appear only at the hour of death,
a sign, in fact, the heritage of the curse of
centuries, with the extraordinary horror of
which popular tradition surrounds her name.
I have desired thus to create the type of a
strange, stormy, embittered soul the daughter
of a race haunted by melancholy, by silence,
and by fate. A thousand shattered splen-
dours appear athwart this gloomy character,
even as mirrors and goblets would shiver,
and daggers flash, against the arras of an
ancient palace wherein some ducal orgy had
been held. This having been said, some excla-
126 VILLIERS DE LISLE ADAM.
mations in the part, antiquated ones, perhaps,
explain and make themselves acceptable,
pronounced as they are by a being of so
peculiar a nature."
But what was that " mysterious mark
actually impressed upon this woman's flesh,"
this gory print which was only to appear
at the death hour ? What " the legendary
halo" which surrounds the terrible Mistress
Andrews ? An old woman, Mistress Noella,
describes it by the light of a camp-fire, in
the midst of the virgin forest of the New
World. The splendidly-related legend, which
was almost entirely suppressed in the shape-
less performance of this fine play at the
Theatre des Nations, must be inserted here,
for several good reasons : first, for the sake
of the curious, for it is as good as unpub-
lished ; further, it is an admirable prose-
poem, whose place is marked in the antho-
logies of the future; and finally, it is a
wonderful example of the peculiar genius of
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam.
The few friends who have heard him recite
it, pale, trembling, and haggard, under the
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 127
light of the midnight lamp terrifying, and
terrified himself by his own story will recall
as they read these lines the tragic and
infectious dread which he threw into his
" One evening the knight Ralph Evandale,
returning to his castle from the Wars of the
Roses, heard on the mountain the sound of
singing in his ancestral halls. In coat of
mail and with lowered vizor he climbed the
stone staircase, marvelling at the festive
sounds. A thousand lamps shone on the
guests. His father, Fungh Evandale, was
celebrating his second marriage, and the
neighbouring barons, sitting round him,
pledged each other in friendly healths. From
the threshold Ralph beheld the newly-wedded
wife, white as her coronet of pearls ; and in
the bride he recognized the pale girl whom
he had long loved in his secret soul. A hell-
born feeling rose in his heart. Silently he
closed the door, and disappeared. Mean-
while the songs had ceased. Leaning thought-
fully on her elbow, on the nuptial couch, the
young chatelaine watched her lord. The noble
128 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
thane unbuckled his sword before the great
hanging mirror, when suddenly the tapestry
was pushed back by a gauntletted hand. It
was Ralph this time, with vizor raised.
Fungh turned, and, recognizing him, joyfully
stretched out his arms. But the cruel son,
impelled by some foul demon, started for-
ward, fell traitorously on his father, and
plunged his dagger in his throat, up to the
cross-hilt Fungh, stricken to death, in-
stinctively put his hand on the wound ; then,
with a maledictory gesture, he laid his gory
fingers on the face of the unnatural son who
gazed unmoved upon his agony. Ralph drew
himself up, his heart sullied by his crime,
and his face branded with his father s blood.
Then, bruising in his mailed hands the two
wrists of the widowed bride, he dragged
her, half-naked, dishevelled, her knees shaking
with terror, into the adjacent oratory, and
would have constrained the chaplain of the
old manor to bless, in that very hour, their
sacrilegious union. Terrified though he
was, the priest gathered courage before the
altar, and would only utter a well-deserved
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 129
anathema. Thus was the guilty marriage
solemnized. And the shadow fell upon their
race ! They gave life to a posterity of
demons, an accursed line of wicked men,
who have rendered themselves illustrious on
the earth by their crimes and their gloomy
amours. Now the race is extinct. One girl
only survives, and she destroyed her property
and burnt her dwelling before she fled her
country. Where is she ? Nobody can tell !
Nevertheless, she will be recognized in her
last hour, for, since the terrible night when
their young ancestress beheld the bloody
hand on the face of the parricide, that accusing
hand-print, graven on the flesh of the Evan-
dales, has perpetuated itself from generation
to generation. They are conceived with that
impress ! It is the law of their birth ! And
whenever death strikes one of them, the
sinister hand appears upon the brow of the
unhappy being, a ghostly, shining hand,
which the everlasting night alone can efface !
Pray then for Edith Evandale, the last of
her race, unknown, forgotten ! "
This Edith Evandale, it will have been
130 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
understood, is she who now conceals herself
under the name of Mistress Andrews. As
the old woman concludes her story, and
while all are still bending forward in silent
and breathless attention, the unhappy woman
herself appears standing among them, the
moonlight falling on her alone. " Yes," she
says in a low despairing voice, " pray ! "
Villiers' rage against the members of the jury Dramatic
scene at the house of Victor Hugo Villiers leaves
Paris The Bordeaux theatres Godefrin, director
of the Theatre Francais An extraordinary reading
Little Mdlle. Aimee Madame Aime"e Tessandier.
Y quotations have carried me away,
and we are far from Bordeaux !
To return. When Villiers arrived,
he was more furious than ever
with Paris and the Parisians in general, and
with literary committees and theatrical mana-
gers in particular. This time it was no
longer " Perrinet Leclerc," nor the loss of his
lawsuit, which excited his rage, but the suc-
cession of injustices of which the " Nouveau
Monde " and its author had been the victims.
He had, indeed, received the official notice,
signed by the superior jury, and announcing
132 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
that his drama had taken the highest and
most honourable place in passing through the
twofold ordeal. It had received the praises
of Victor Hugo, of Emile Augier and Octave
Feuillet, of Ernest Legouve even ! and that
was all. No medal of honour, much less the
ten thousand francs ! He was, it is true, too
well acquainted with the side-scenes of life at
this end of the century to feel much surprised
at seeing the gold turn into dead leaves, but
he had hoped that those who had instituted the
competition would, at all events, have made
some effort to have the play of their choice
performed on some great Parisian stage.
Nothing of the kind. A flood of benignant
commonplace was the only answer to his in-
quiries and his imperious demands, and the
gifted author of the "Nouveau Monde" had to
undergo the humiliation (surely, in another
life, it shall be reckoned in his favour !) of see-
ing the second-rate play of one of his fellow-
competitors, M. Armand d'Artois, performed
on the Paris boards, while his own slumbered
in the manuscript boxes of the manager of
the Porte St. Martin Theatre.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 133
It would have been too much even for a
being gifted with more patience than my poor
As a first step the poet went and made a
scandal at the Olympian abode of Victor
Hugo, in the Avenue de Clichy. In the
presence of the usual body-guard, Vacquerie,
Lockroy, Catulle Mendes, and my late vene-
rable compatriot, L , he dared to accuse
the honorary president of the superior jury of
having been the first to break all the promises
signed with his august name. He mentioned
the demigod's age to him, and made some allu-
sion to literary integrity in general. L ,
who usually sat silent in these gatherings,
never opening his mouth except to cry
" Sabaoth ! " unable to contain his fury,
angrily advanced towards the intruder, and
indignantly shaking the beautiful white curls
which framed his pallid face, he shot at the
blasphemer this eloquent apostrophe, which
Homer or Henri Monnier might have been
glad to take a note of : " Integrity, sir, is not
a question of age ! " Slowly, with his un-
certain glance, Villiers scanned the worthy
134 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
elder from head to foot, then gently answered,
" No, sir, nor folly either ! " Then, leaving
the startled coterie, horrified at his unlimited
audacity, he hurried to the Porte St. Martin,
snatched his manuscript from the secretary's
claws, and at dawn next day, laden with the
five thick copybooks containing his five a6ls,
and without vulgar care for such a trivial
thing as luggage, he took the through train to
" Then at once," he said, as he brought the
story of the adventures of his play to a close,
" I bethought me of you, of the provinces, of
vengeance. I dreamt of murder, of decentra-
lization ! Don't you see what a splendid
chance there is here for the manager of
some provincial theatre, to be first to accept
and mount and play a piece by the Comte
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which has been
crowned by the approbation of a committee
counting among its members those idols of
middle-class lovers of literature, Legouve,
Feuillet, Augier, and Hugo ? But, in the first
place, is there a theatre in Bordeaux ? "
" There are three," I replied, "without count-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 135
ing the strollers' booths." Bordeaux did, in
fa6l, possess in those days three important
theatres : the Grand Theatre, which was de-
voted to operatic performances, the Theatre
Louit, which had no particular line, and the
Theatre Frangais, which was entirely given
up to comedy and drama. The then manager
of the latter was a Parisian artiste, a good
actor, and an excellent administrator, pos-
sessed of great boldness, much insight, and
most reliable good taste. He has since made
himself a name at the Cafe de Suede, and in
the theatrical world, as a most successful
organizer of provincial and dramatic tours.
He was then, and presumably is still, called
Godefrin. We had had some casual relations
with each other, and as soon as Villiers im-
parted his new project to me, I bethought me
of the director of the Theatre Frangais of Bor-
deaux. I wrote to him, therefore, making
known our idea and asking for an early inter-
view. We had not long to wait. The answer
came, overflowing with enthusiasm for Villiers
and full of gratitude to myself, and the very
next evening found us sitting in the managerial
136 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
apartment. Villiers had been to the barber ;
his well-curled moustache had a conquering
air, and he marched victoriously through the
streets of Bordeaux with his manuscript under
his arm. But, as the sequel will show, this
pretence of assurance concealed a horrible
state of nervousness; he was, in reality, as
agitated as a debutante who hears the call-
boy's bell for the first time. And yet there
was nothing inaccessible in the demeanour of
the impresario ! He was still young, free
from any professional swagger, and very
affable. He received Villiers with admiring
deference. A young woman, tall and slight
and pale, dressed in dark colours, rose to her
feet on our entrance, and surveyed Villiers
with curiously brilliant eyes. "Allow me to
introduce you to little Mdlle. Aimee, my best
pensionnaire" said Godefrin ; " she is con-
sumed with a desire to play a tragic part, and
I believe she will succeed ; ay, and brilliantly !
Perhaps, dear sir," turning to Villiers, " you
will be able to find her a part in your play ? "
There was no answer from Villiers. All out
of curl already, he had retired into a corner,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 137
whence he watched us with his suspicious, de-
jected, startled gaze, nervously rolling a ciga-
rette between his fingers.
"Well, let us begin to read ! " said I at last,
to break a silence which was becoming em-
barrassing. We seated ourselves ; the poet at
the table, we at random on the seats scattered
about the room. And the reading began.
I have witnessed many strange scenes in
the course of my life, but never, I think, was
I present at anything so fantastically, irresis-
tibly funny as that sight of Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam reading the sheets of his drama to
Godefrin the manager. At the beginning
things went fairly well. Villiers seated him-
self, coughed, moistened his lips in the glass
of water before him, tossed back, with his
usual gesture, the long fair lock which, in spite
of its recent curling, would keep falling over
his eyes, and then, with a searching glance all
round, he opened the manuscript and began :
" Act the first tableau the first Swinmore
the great saloon of Swinmore manor-house,
near Auckland, in the county of Cumberland.
At the rear "
138 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Here he interrupted himself, rose from his
chair, and, with the obje<5l of explaining the
fittings of the scene to Godefrin, began to
jump about the room, knocking over seats,
dragging armchairs about, unhooking the
arms on a small trophy which hung upon
the wall, and accompanying his erratic be-
haviour with inconsequent sentences and
incomprehensible words :
" The balcony of wrought iron-work
night a moon stars there, in the distance,
thy silver streak, O sea! gold enrichments
Ha ! ha ! ha ! they come, the voices ! the
distant and prophetic voices ! the departing
voices ! Ahoy ! ahoy ! from the boat here
is Ruth, the sad lady of the castle here is
the smiling Mary ! the voices again the
voices approach ! the voices die away ! ! !
Suddenly he perceived the piano, threw
himself upon the keyboard, and striking some
melancholy chords, he sang in a plaintive
voice, "Adieu, prairie! Adieu, berceau! Adieu,
tombeau! Adieu, pair ie !" then, still accom-
panying himself, recited in sepulchral accents,
" Farewell, old house ! in which I have never
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 139
given happiness, nor enjoyed it ! the duty for
which I forsake thee is the most sacred of all
duties in my eyes ! God shall be my judge
yes ! Adieu, tombeau ! "
Startled and terror-stricken, the correct
frock-coated manager, pale and with com-
pressed lips, had taken refuge in a corner,
whence his wild southern eyes every now and
then shot imploring glances at me. The
actress had buried her head in her hands,
and I could see her pretty shoulders shaking
in a tempest of convulsive laughter. Mean-
while, Villiers, with bristling locks and dis-
trustful eyes, had left the piano, and, standing
with folded arms before Godefrin, he de-
manded, "Well, sir, have you understood
this mysterious symbolism ? Everything,
everything is in that : the parting from the
old country, the uprooting of the young tree
which is to bear the foliage, the fruit, the
perfume of the corrupt Old World in a
newer and purer one. That, the exposition
of the idea of my play, is clearly established,
is it not ? " In spite of his astonishment, poor
Godefrin found breath to answer, " Doubtless,
140 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
dear sir, your idea is wonderful, but I must
humbly admit it has not evolved itself to my
intelligence from what I have heard. May I
beg of you to read me your piece quietly,
without thinking about the scenery, action, or
symbolism ? "
Villiers shrugged his shoulders, his whole
physiognomy expressing ineffable scorn and
disdain. He turned to me : " Are you com-
ing ? " he said ; then taking up his hat and
cane, and his manuscript " Madam ! sir ! I
wish you good morning ! " and he moved
towards the door.
We surrounded him. I dragged him back,
and made him sit down and listen to me.
"Are you stark mad ? " I cried, sternly; " and
do you suppose the manager of a theatre is a
prophet, who can penetrate the mysteries of a
poet's brain, and discover what his ideas are
before he condescends to put them into good,
plain, intelligible prose ? Deuce take it ! It
is not by pushing about chairs, upsetting
furniture, and bawling to the piano, that you
will manage to make Godefrin understand
your play. Take my advice ; give me your
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 141
manuscript " (and I took it out of his hand) ;
" go and sit down in that farthest corner, and
let me give a complete, ordinary, common-
place reading of your piece."
As I spoke his face darkened ; he retired
into a recess, and rolling his eternal cigarette,
his eyes on the ground, he answered in that
hollow voice which he always used when he
desired to personify Doctor Triboulat Bon-
homet, " Very good ! a family reading ! So
be it ! " " Bravo ! " cried Godefrin, " now we
shall be able to understand what we are about,
and admire in proportion." But I must draw
my story to a close. For two hours I read
without stopping, except to rest for a few
minutes between the a6ls. If I raised my
eyes, I saw Godefrin listening with an air of
authority, and Villiers lost in distant dreams,
while little Mdlle. Aimee's keen, ardent, con-
centrated gaze was rivetted on myself. I felt
and understood that she drank in every word
I pronounced, and that every character, as it
shaped itself before her mental vision, became
instinct with life, movement, and suffering ;
and when I reached the foot of the last page,
142 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
it was her that my eyes instinctively sought.
She had risen, quivering with excitement, and
hastening to Villiers, she seized both his hands,
exclaiming, " Oh, sir, dear sir, I beg you to
let me play the part of Mistress Andrews ! "
" It is an admirable play," said the impresario,
on his side, "and I am ready to make any
sacrifice in order to mount such a fine piece
of work in a way worthy of its own and its
Alas, poor Godefrin ! He little knew the
poetic temperament, more capricious than
April sunshine, more changeable than the
sea. The " Nouveau Monde" was never to be
played at Bordeaux. A few months after the
scene I have just described, Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam was back in Paris, and, seduced by the
fair promises of Chabrillat, at that time re-
organizing the Ambigu, he withdrew his piece
from the director of the Bordeaux theatre,
to confide it to this suddenly-arisen literary
Barnum. It is greatly to be regretted that
Bordeaux should not have had the first per-
formance of this fine play. I am convinced
that Villiers' work would there have achieved
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 143
the enthusiastic success which it merits, and
everyone will agree with me that no Parisian
stage could have furnished an artist more
capable of interpreting the gloomy role of the
heroine than little Mdlle. Aimee, M. Godefrin's
pensionnaire ; for Madame Aimee Tessandier,
of the Comedie Fran^aise, is now, and
justly, considered one of our finest and most
gifted tragic actresses, and Godefrin was a
true prophet when he predicted that her
success would be great.
Little Mdlle. Aimee of those bygone days !
If chance should bring these lines before your
eyes, you may perhaps forget for a moment
your recent glories in the house of Moliere,
and give a thought to the distant past ! That
part of Mistress Andrews, madame, was a very
beautiful creation, and one which might well .
inspire such an artistic individuality as yours.
It might have marked an important stage in
your triumphal march ; it might, even now,
did you choose to take it back and play it to
the life, become the fairest pearl in your
diadem as a tragic actress !
Restful days The real Villiers Villiers and the fair
sex Talks about bygone days Charles Baude-
laire His true nature His strange home-life
Jeanne Duval Edgar Poe Richard Wagner
"Axel" The Cabala and the occult sciences
Villiers' religious sentiments Quotations " L'Eve
HOSE days spent with my friend
far from the cares and noise of city
life, have remained with me as one
of my pleasantest memories. For
us they were days of delicious and beneficial
repose. In that quiet sunny southern spot
where we spent some weeks together, the
mantle of bitter scorn and scepticism in which
he wrapped himself on the boulevards seemed
to drop from his shoulders. I penetrated far
into his inner nature, and he allowed me to
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 145
perceive the ideal and beautiful personality
which he so jealously concealed in the depths
of his soul. Thus I came to know at last a
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam but little resembling
the one who used to delight the nightly
frequenters of the brasseries at Montmartre
by his wit, his strange imaginings, and his
disconnected manner of life. This was the real
man, the dreamer, the philosopher, the poet,
the true lover, incarnated in the superhuman
character of Axel, and concealed beneath the
cloak of irony in which all his work is en-
On those cloudless balmy nights at Bor-
deaux, as we wandered in close converse along
the banks of the great river, under the graceful
arches of the pine-trees, through which the
pale and mysterious moonbeams slanted,
while above us rose the hill-slopes covered
with the heavy purple and golden bunches of
the ripening grapes, he would go back over
his past life, and would recount to me and to
himself his intellectual and sentimental his-
tory. Did woman play a great part in the
poet's life ? I think so, though he had few
146 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
adventures and fewer passionate attachments.
But, like that much misunderstood personage,
Don Juan, Villiers was continually seeking
that divine emotion which he never felt but
once, and that in his early youth, during the
short existence of that first and purest love of
which the green Breton fields were the cradle,
the setting, and the grave. If he chanced to
catch sight of one of those celestial faces
which make one believe that angels may
come down to earth, he would fall in love
with his own ideal. But as soon as he ap-
proached a woman more closely, his pitiless
spirit of analysis laid bare all the moral ugli-
nesses and littlenesses veiled by her physical
beauty. The angel disappeared, and brutal
reality clipped the wings of his dream. After
a disappointment of this sort, he would throw
himself with a sort of frenzy into the wildest
orgies of midnight debauchery. At such times
his sarcasms about love and women burnt like
a redhot iron, but beneath all his imprecations
one felt that there lay the despair of a man
who has held for one short moment the key of
Eden, and from whom it has been snatched
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 147
before he could open the sacred portal.
Happily his art, his love for it, and his
consciousness of his own genius, consoled
him for his many mortifications.
He loved, in these intimate and often
retrospective conversations, to go back over
the first happy years of his residence in Paris,
to his friendly relations with my father, and
above all to Charles Baudelaire, whose
memory haunted him like a ghost. They
had made acquaintance at the office of the
" Revue Fantaisiste," whither, from time to
time, the author of the " Fleurs du Mai "
would bring some of his original and ex-
quisitely-polished " Petits Poemes en Prose."
Baudelaire and Villiers had too much in
common not to be quickly drawn together.
From the date of their first meeting they
were frequently in each other's company, and
Villiers was one of the few friends who were
present at the poet's terrible death. For my
own part, while greatly admiring Baudelaire
as a poetical craftsman, I did not like his
character as an individual. From all I had
heard (for I never knew him personally), he
148 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
seemed to me to be wanting in sincerity, and
to be eternally posing, not only before the
public, but before the little circle over which
he habitually presided.
Villiers would leap with rage if I expressed
this in his presence. He declared that I
swam in a sea of stupid prejudice ; that what
I took for affectation in Baudelaire was really
the essence of his extraordinary nature ; that
he could not be nor behave otherwise. And
he would try to explain this strange, terribly
complicated character to me, diabolical as it
was in some ways, exquisitely good in others.
Would that my impotent pen could reproduce
the fire, the eagerness, and the brilliancy of
Villiers' speeches in defence of his departed
friend! Baudelaire had condescended to ex-
plain and analyze himself, to lay bare his
heart, as he expressed it, before this privi-
ledged associate. " In his youth," said Vil-
liers, "he halted between two ambitions. To
be the greatest actor in the world, or else to
be the Pope." Although he had shouldered
a musket and worn the workman's blouse in
1848, he gave himself out as a Catholic and a
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 149
supporter of constituted authority. " A Catho-
lic possessed by a devil," Villiers would add,
" and a supporter of authority who admitted
none but his own, and that of his vices, which
he cherished as works of art, and of which he
was inordinately proud." Nothing could have
been more strikingly curious than the descrip-
tion given by the author of "Axel" of the
poet's home-life. He lived near Neuilly, in
an apartment with large high rooms, full of
oddly-shaped furniture, Chinese monsters,
Indian idols, fantastic and generally frightful
carvings of animals, the walls of which were
hung with dark and revolting pictures of the
Spanish School, mutilations, executions, and
torture scenes, painted by the horror-loving
Ribeira and his pupils. In the midst of this
nightmare scene Baudelaire moved slowly
about, cold, silent, and pale, himself half-
frightened, like one who walks through a
hideous dream. And as mistress of this
strange dwelling, there was a creature stranger
still a coloured girl, almost a negress, named
Jeanne Duval, always shivering, and wrapped
in gaudy silks, past her youth, thin, cringing,
150 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
and without any charm but that of her glowing
eyes. Violent, bad-tempered, untruthful, un-
faithful, greedy, intemperate, and depraved,
she died a drunkard's death in the Maison
Dubois, idolized and petted to her last gasp
by Baudelaire, who loved her deeply, I sup-
pose for the sake of her many perversities.
It was to Charles Baudelaire that Villiers
owed one of his greatest artistic enjoyments,
his acquaintance with the works of Edgar Poe.
He was a very bad English scholar, and
without his friend's wonderful translations,
and his enthusiastic talk on the subject of the
great American story-teller, he would never,
probably, have made acquaintance with the
"Strange Tales," nor with that wonderful
poem, " The Raven," which he used to recite
in such a striking manner. And it was the
will of fate that he should owe yet more to
Baudelaire. It was in his house that he saw
for the first time the only human genius before
whom he ever completely and unreservedly
bowed down, Richard Wagner. This meeting,
the most important event, according to Villiers,
in his intellectual life, took place in the month of
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 151
May, 1 86 1 . The wizard of music had called to
thank Baudelaire for a fine, and, for those days,
very courageous study of himself and his work,
published in the " Revue Europeenne," and
entitled " Richard Wagner and Tannhauser."
This was the beginning of one of those beau-
tiful and noble artistic friendships of which,
alas ! so few examples exist, and the bond of
which was only to be severed by death. In a
future chapter of these recollections, I shall
speak more fully, as is fitting, of the intimacy
between these two highly-gifted beings, so well
formed for mutual understanding, the creator
of Elsa and the creator of Axel.
Already, at the time of his sojourn in the
south of France, Villiers was at work on that
great philosophical drama of " Axel," which
only appeared after he was dead.
One of the most wonderful scenes in the
work (Part II., " Le Monde Tragique," scene
8), was entirely written at Bordeaux.
For the purposes of this play Villiers had
profoundly studied the Cabala and the occult
sciences, both past and present. Yet his
mind was too powerful and too analytical to
152 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
be profoundly smitten by such theories. He
merely saw in them a phase of the philoso-
phical evolution of centuries, and he also found
in them dramatic elements of the highest
order. But I venture to assert, from what
I have known of him, that it would be a mistake
to reckon the author of the " Nouveau Monde "
among contemporary cabalists.
His ideal soared further and higher far
than the magic art cultivated so assiduously,
and not altogether unremuneratively, by that
long-haired young sar, Josephin Peladan.
Though the occult sciences may overwhelm
and infatuate the intelligence of Peladan at the
close of this century, and Rohan at the dawn
of the Revolution, to such vigorous geniuses
as Goethe in Germany and Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam in France they are but a step to be
boldly taken in the approach towards divine
And I should like to say here, to the honour
of the great writer whose work and character
have been so much misunderstood, that Villiers
de Flsle Adam was all his life a convinced and
fervent Roman Catholic. The study of the
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 153
philosophy of all times and every country, the
study of the human mind, and the study of
nature, all only strengthened his faith. He
firmly believed that God was good, and that
the Devil was wicked, in Heaven, in Purgatory,
in Hell. Through all those hours of physical
agony and moral suffering which he endured
before his soul escaped to Paradise, he found
the source of all his hope and all his consola-
tion in prayer. His life, indeed, like the lives
of most great artists, was full of faults and
failures, but whenever he had a chance of
fighting the good fight in the cause of reli-
gion and of our divine ideal, he did it with a
fervour and an enthusiasm which proved the
sincerity of his convictions. And doubtless
God will count that to him for righteous-
"One of the most deeply-rooted feelings in
Villiers' soul," wrote M. G. Guiches, very
truly, the day after the poet's death (" Figaro,"
August 1 8, 1889), "was the strong, honest,
tender, religious sentiment which would make
his eyes fill with tears whenever the divine
mysteries were spoken of in his presence.
154 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Neither the promiscuous cafe life, throughout
which he always preserved his haughty inde-
pendence of heart and mind, nor his copious
and inventive flow of banter, ever touched
with the faintest stain the royal ermine of his
faith. On those loose sheets on which, like
Baudelaire, he was in the habit of noting
down his thoughts, side by side with prosaic
memoranda of daily life, and naive resolutions,
such as 'not to smoke so much,' phrases like
the following occur : ' It is a sin to mourn for
a dead child. It has entered into its glory.'
Among these fragments, too, are touching
litanies to the Virgin : ' Mother of the good
God ! O thou, my Mother ! thou who
intercedest, sure that thou shalt be heard !
Thou who standest on Calvary ! Thou who
canst pardon ! Heel that crushest the ser-
pent ! Whiteness of the eternal dawn ! Glory
of human tears ! Light of the eastern star !
Thou soul of chastity ! Thou resignation of
the poor ! ' etc., etc., etc.
" To an author who told him the atro-
ciously cynical title of his lately-published
book, he answered boldly : ' Such things
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 155
should never be written. Those are words
that will come back to you on your death-
As I am in a vein of quotation, I will cite
one more charming anecdote on the same
subject, related in the " Revue Blanc " by M.
Henri Laujol, one of Villiers' earliest comrades.
" I remember," he says, " receiving a visit
from Villiers one day, while I was reading
Hceckel's ' History of the Creation.' I can see
him now, turning over the leaves, looking at
the woodcuts, and weighing the book in his
hand, with much pantomimic alarm. He
asked how much that grand book had cost,
and I told him the price, somewhere about
ten francs. ' The catechism costs only two
sous ! ' was his reply. It was a regular coun-
try parson's remark. But Villiers was so
delighted at having made it that he spent his
whole afternoon repeating it to me, droning it
out in every sort of key, now falsetto, now bass,
and then again in a Tyrolese jodel ; interrupt-
ing himself, now and then, to laugh at the top
of his voice. I could get nothing else out of
him the whole of that day."
156 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
But I must turn from our bygone talks to
register here an incident of his life on the
boulevards, which he related to me one even-
ing, and which was to give birth to that
famous novel, " L'Eve Future," which ap-
peared long afterwards at Brunhoff's, with
this motto attached to it : " Transitoriis qucere
A metamorphosis An ambitious pastry-cook Appearance
of the newspaper, "La Croix et PEpee" Its political,
artistic, and literary programme Lord E W
His strange suicide The wax figure A nocturnal
conversation The American engineer and his
master, Edison First conception of "L'Eve Future"
Villiers de ITsle Adam and Thomas Alva Edison.
OT long before the famous Lockroy
lawsuit, Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, for
the first time in his life, had found
himself in a regularly established
position. He had given the frequenters of
the boulevards and of the newspaper offices
the unwonted spe6lacle of a Villiers in brand-
new clothes and a brilliantly smart silk hat
a Villiers with a grave face and a well-filled
pocket-book, whose fingers rattled keys and
five-franc pieces together in his pockets a
158 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Villiers, in fine, who breakfasted at the Cafe
Riche, and had his table every night at
Brebant's (that restaurant so dear to literary
men), in the celebrated first-floor room so
graphically described in the journals of the
De Goncourt. The reason of this ephemeral
change in the poet's life is worthy of a place
in the "Arabian Nights." A retired con-
fectioner, devoured by political and literary
ambition, and convinced, doubtless, that his
success in making fancy biscuits gave him a
right to put his fingers into the great political
pie, desired to found a newspaper to be the
organ of his opinions. This, in itself, is a very
ordinary fact, not particularly worthy of note.
Many an ambitious vulgarian is not content
without a newspaper slavishly devoted to his
interests. But this pastry-cook, who shall be
nameless, became absolutely heroic, and un-
doubtedly worthy to be mentioned to pos-
terity when, out of all the starving writers
who trod the cruel and horrible Paris pave-
ments, he chose that unmerciful scoffer, Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam, as his representative andatier
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 159
A play or a story might be written about
the ups and downs of the astounding news-
paper which was the outcome of this strange
union. I have only time to throw some hasty
touches on the canvas.
Villiers was chief editor, reporter, critic, and
article-writer at one and the same time. The
confectioner was director, manager, and cashier.
He gave the poet five hundred francs a month,
and left him absolutely free to express his own
political, artistic, and literary opinions, exacting
two things only : firstly, that " his newspaper "
should mention him, individually, every day ;
and secondly, that " his newspaper " should
make a stir in the capital. His desire was
more than gratified !
" La Croix et 1'Epee," the Cross and Sword
(high-sounding title !), claimed, in matters of
religion, the right of every soldier to swear
round oaths and go to mass ; politically, it
supported the claim of the Naundorffs to the
throne of France ; artistically, it put the sym-
bolist painters above Raphael ; poetically, it
proclaimed Stephane Mallarme the prince of
rhyme, and defended the School of the Incom-
160 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
prehensibles ; and musically, it was belligerently
and exclusively Wagnerian. At the end of
six months the newspaper disappeared, the
confectioner went back to his province, and
Villiers found himself back on the boulevards,
poorer than ever in pocket, but rich still in
splendid hopes, and answering the hypo-
critical condolences of his fellow-journalists
with his usual phrase, " Yes, yes ! Many
thanks ! But all is not lost! Next winter, we
shall see ! "
It was during this period of relative pros-
perity that he caught a glimpse of the in-
dividual who gave him the first idea for his
novel, " L'Eve Future."
One evening he saw coming into Brebant's,
arm-in-arm with one of the attaches of the
British Embassy, a young Englishman whose
singular face aroused his imagination.
" He was both handsome and sad-looking,"
Villiers used to tell me, in his enthusiastic
way, "and I saw at once in the expression of
his eyes that grave and scornful look of
melancholy which always betokens a hidden
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 161
This young man's name (I only give the
initials) was Lord E W . His tragic
end attracted attention in Paris for some time.
He destroyed himself, very deliberately, some
days after Villiers met him. Stretched beside
him, in a magnificent dress, bespattered with
his blood, was found an admirably-made lay
figure, representing a young woman, whose
waxen face, modelled by a great artist, was
the portrait of a young lady well known in
London for her brilliant beauty, and who had
been engaged to be married to the eccentric
Was this suicide merely the result of one
of those strange hereditary manias which
alffli6t some families of the English aristo-
cracy ? Or was the mysterious catastrophe
of some dramatic and passionate love affair
to be read in the presence of the wonderful
doll on the young man's deathbed ? The
young attache inclined to this latter opinion.
According to his view, Lord E W
had been the victim of an extraordinary
fatality. He adored the physical loveliness
of the young girl ; he was perpetually haunted
1 62 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
by her magnificent beauty ; but he held her
mind and soul, and everything in her that
was not material, in the deepest abhorrence.
Hence arose the slowly-developed madness
which ended in his death.
These things were related one night at the
restaurant, before Villiers and a small circle
of habituts. An American engineer an elec-
trician, as they call them over there rose from
his seat, and quietly said, " I am sorry your
friend did not apply to me ; I might have
cured him." "You! how?" "How! Great
Scott ! I would have given his doll life, soul,
movement, love ! " The assembled company,
being sceptical as to miracles, burst out laugh-
ing, all but Villiers, who seemed to be absorbed
in rolling his cigarette. " You may laugh,
stranger," said the American gravely, as he
picked up his hat and stick, " but the time
will come when my great master, Edison, will
teach you that electricity is an almighty
power," and with that he went out.
These facts and this nocturnal conversa-
tion gave birth to " L'Eve Future," one of the
most original works of this end of the century.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 163
Those who have perused this masterpiece of
eloquent raillery, by the poet who, to use M.
Henri Laujol's happy expression, "had vowed
a monkish hatred against modern science, that
handmaid of utilitarianism," will doubtless
recollect that the general notion and argu-
ment of the story follow almost identically
the facts I have just related. But Villiers
was not one of those half-artists who are
satisfied with their first idea, and work it out
the moment chance has presented it to their
brain. It was only after revolving it in his
mind, pondering and brooding over it, that
he began to write his novel, the first wonder-
ful pages of which, with their description of
Menloe Park and its terrifying proprietor,
Thomas Alva Edison, he read to me in 1879.
When the great inventor himself came to
Paris in 1889 to see our exhibition, somebody
sent him De 1'Isle Adam's book. He read it
through without putting it down, and said to
one of his intimates, " That man is greater
than I. I can only in vent. He creates!" He
desired to make the author's acquaintance, but,
alas ! poor Villiers, already stricken by the fell
1 64 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
disease of which he died, could not respond
to Edison's invitation. This is deeply to be
regretted. Can anything more curious and
more interesting be imagined than a conver-
sation between the progenitor of Dr. Triboulat
Bonhomet and the father of the phonograph ?
Soon after he had related the curious origin
of his contemplated work to me, my eccentric
friend suddenly disappeared from my sight.
Villiers' absent-mindedness His terrible carelessness
His departure from Bordeaux Godefrin's despair
A year later Bohemian poverty A justification
Want of money Villiers' difficulties His pride
His artistic conscientiousness Drumont's book
Villiers and the young Jew A good answer Villiers'
manner of life His midnight wanderings His dis-
like of daylight Villiers and Anatole France.
MOST disconcerting thing about
Villiers, which used to exasperate
his best friends till his dying day,
was his perpetual absent-minded-
ness, which led him to forget the most impor-
tant appointments, to break off, for long
months on end, his most intimate daily
relations, and only occasionally to fulfil the
engagements he might make with editors of
reviews or publishers. The uncertainty of
his movements kept one continually on the
166 VILLIERS DE L'JSLE ADAM.
alert ; you could never tell when he would
come or when he would go. I have described
his sudden apparition in my house at Bor-
deaux. His departure was just as unexpected.
We had talked the whole night long ; at early
dawn I went to get a little rest, and when I
rose it was already late. I inquired after
Villiers ; he had gone out, and hours passed
without his return. In vain I sought him.
Without beat of drum he had disappeared,
melted away like a shadow.
A few days after I met Godefrin with a
long face. He had just received a letter
from the inconstant writer, dated from Paris,
demanding the immediate return of the manu-
script of the " Nouveau Monde." His con-
versation was one flood of recriminations.
For my own part, inured long since as I was
to the poet's offhand ways, I was only half-
surprised, and I did my best to console the
unhappy director, whom I have not had the
good fortune to meet since that interview.
Towards me Villiers preserved an un-
broken silence. Indeed, I might have thought
him dead, and myself forgotten, if the post had
VILLIERS DE L'JSLE ADAM. 167
not brought me packets containing articles,
tales, or fanciful conceits of his, cut out of
newspapers and magazines, and which, ad-
dressed as they were by his own hand, proved
that he was not "the late De 1'Isle Adam,"
and that I still lived in his memory.
It was difficult, after all was said and done,
to bear him a grudge because of his exaspera-
ting carelessness, for when you next met him,
after a disappearance of five or six months, he
would address you as if he had only left you
the night before. If you reproached him, he
would gaze at you with an innocent and
puzzled air, seemingly quite unconscious of his
sin ; and then he had such a particular way of
exclaiming, "What! I did that! oh, come, come!
impossible ! you must be chaffing me ! " that
nobody could keep their countenance nor their
bad temper long. Personally I was not to see
him for two years. Alas ! when we met again
in Paris in 1879, 1 saw that poverty was slowly
accomplishing its destructive work. Never
had the Bohemian life which he so coura-
geously accepted, seemed more utterly dreary.
He needed all his power of hopefulness to
1 68 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
endure it. But though his heart was as stout,
his imagination as brilliant, his mind as active
as ever, the bodily frame was beginning to tire
and its machinery to break down, thanks to
bad food, want of care, and the late hours
and noxious tobacco-laden air of tavern life.
Living as I did in Paris the whole of that year,
I contrived to withdraw him a little from the
infernal round which was destroying his life.
But I never deceived myself. I felt it was
only a respite, and that he would always have
a longing for that eccentric and feverish exis-
tence which devoured him body and soul and
hastened his end.
This year of grace 1879 was the last we
spent together, and it was the time of our
closest intimacy. Before reviving some memo-
ries of it, I desire to defend Villiers against an
unjust accusation, which is frequently brought
against him. He has been accused, both in life
and after death, of being a dissipated tavern-
bird, a lover of low company. It has been
asserted that his want of success arose princi-
pally from his own bad conduct, his want of
moral sense, his indolence, and the doubtful
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 169
company he frequented. To those who only
knew him casually these accusations bear an
appearance of truth fatal to the poet's good
name. But we who were acquainted with
his inner life, and have watched him through
the hard trials of his laborious existence, know
how little he deserved the reproaches of these
wiseacres. We knew the nobility of his nature,
the innate delicacy of his tastes, his passion
for work, his scorn of material enjoyments.
And we know how, little by little, this gifted
being was driven by evil fortune to live in an
atmosphere unworthy of him, and how, too,
little by little, and after many a revolt, he
grew accustomed to it.
May I be permitted, then, within the space
of a few lines, to attempt the justification of
the slipshod and Bohemian manner of life of
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. It will give me an
opportunity of showing the original and com-
plex character of the artist in a new light.
The faithful autobiography of a writer
living in Paris during the last twenty years,
without any other means of support than his
own talents, would be a gloomier and a sadder
170 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
book than Dante's " Inferno." But it would
likewise be a healthy and instructive one, a
sort of warning beacon which should save
many a young and promising life from ruin,
shame, and death. Though there are some
indomitable natures which rise higher and
gain in strength through the struggle with
misfortune, there are many more, and highly
gifted ones too, which are lowered and
crushed down by despicable cares, grinding
poverty, and anxiety concerning the earning
of daily bread. True as it may be that
energy, moral strength, and artistic conviction
form a solid suit of armour, yet I hold that the
thinnest silver cuirass is more useful for win-
ning the final victory. And that which hin-
dered Villiers from climbing to the highest
eminence was above all things his want of
This condition of penury must have been
all the more prejudicial and painful to him,
because the ddbut of his career was so suc-
cessful as to be almost an apotheosis.
Excessively proud, and with a lively sen-
timent for the illustrious name he bore, he
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 171
would never, when poverty came upon him,
undertake any of those lucrative, if ignoble
jobs, which in these days are always to be
had about the literary world. He carried
his respect for his calling as far as his respect
for his ancestry, and no matter how pressing
his need was, he would never send a hastily-
finished page, nor even sentence, to the
printer. He read and re-read everything,
first low, then loud, and finally, when the
whole was weeded and corrected, he would
declaim it in that clear sonorous voice which
he always used when reciting his own
writings. According to him, the worst crime
a writer can commit is to sell himself. And
in this connection I will record an authen-
ticated anecdote which ends with a remark
by the author of " L'Eve Future " which
almost touches the sublime.
Immediately after the appearance of " La
France Juive," the Jewish community in
Paris looked about for a writer equal to the
task of returning the murderous knockdown
blows of the terrible Drumont. Somebody
suggested Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. A noble
iyz VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
name, a brilliant talent, and in straits of
poverty probably to be had very cheap ! A
nice little glossy well-combed Jew, who then
looked, perhaps still looks, after the censor-
ship in the back office of a fashionable pub-
lisher, was sent to call upon him. Villiers,
struggling with the direst poverty, often
without half a franc in his pocket, was living
in a big, bare, dark, cold room, somewhere
on the heights of Montmartre, where he
still possessed an old easy-chair, a ricketty
table, and a poor asthmatic piano, which the
bailiffs had despised. Here the young Jew
found the last descendant of the Grand Mas-
ter of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
Unctuously servile, and with an exaggerated
show of respe6l, the messenger of the syna-
gogue explained its desire, concluding by
saying that there could be no bargaining
with a writer of such distinction, and that the
Comte Villiers de 1'Isle Adam had only to
name his own price. Then he waited in
silence for the answer of Villiers, who had
listened without interrupting, rolling a ciga-
rette in his white fingers, his absent glance half
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 173
hidden by the thick lock that fell over his
brow. When his interlocutor had ceased
speaking, he raised his head, and fixing on
him his clear blue eyes, filled now with
sudden flame, he answered in a ringing
voice, " My price, sir ? It has not altered
since the days of our Saviour ! Thirty pieces
of silver ! " Then, rising and wrapping
around him his tattered old dressing-gown,
he pointed to the door with a gesture that
the illustrious marshal, his ancestor, might
have envied, and added, " Begone, sir!"
But I have wandered from my subject.
I was saying that poverty had been a hard
stepmother to Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, forcing
him from his youth up to shape his life to
the Bohemian habits of a vagabond Parisian
life, and to such habits he gradually became
accustomed. Serious and well-established
people, as well as self-important and overfed
middle-class folk, used to reproach him bit-
terly with the carelessness of his existence,
with his slipshod behaviour, above all, with
his assiduous frequentation of those nocturnal
places of entertainment, which, under the
174 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
name of wine-shops, brasseries, and artists'
taverns, swarm between the Faubourg Mont-
martre and the Boulevard de Clichy. Yet
how many good excuses there were for this
so-called life of idleness and debauchery !
If Villiers, without being rich, had pos-
sessed a few pounds a year, if he could have
made for himself, somewhere in the formidable
city, ever so small a corner where he might
have dreamed his brilliant beautiful dreams,
and written, and thought, without anxiety
concerning his daily pittance, I, who was
his friend, will affirm that the witty and
eloquent frequenters of the " Chat Noir "
and the " Rat Mort " would have known him
less, and, what is more to the purpose, less
intimately. But driven by dire necessity to
pitch his tent in some empty lodging or
dreary hotel room, he had such a horror,
aristocratic being, dainty poet, charming
artist as he was, of the hideous dwellings
into which his evil fate had penned him,
that he fled from them, preferring to make
all Paris his home, and to say, in the words
of Bruant's working man, " T'es dans la rue,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 175
va, t'es chez toi ! " " You're in the gutter ?
then you are at home ! "
It was walking the pavements, on the
terraces of cafes, and with his elbow on the
stained tavern tables, that he imagined, dis-
cussed, and partly wrote, some of his finest
works. Every imaginative being, moreover,
wants some nervous excitement to quicken
his brain process, and Villiers more especially
was the victim of this need. He could not
evolve his ideas and present them clearly
to his own mind without discussion, and
therefore without somebody to discuss them
with. If prosperity had been granted to him,
he might have found all this in artistic circles,
at his own fireside, in friendly gatherings,
perhaps in the drawing-room of some woman
of fashion. Poor as he was, and driven into
Bohemian life, he had to fall back on his
wild nocturnal habits, and on the hubbub
of the tavern, where ideas and words meet
and clash noisily through clouds of tobacco
smoke, amidst the rattle of glasses and the
noisy laughter of loose women.
I owe it, however, to truth to say that
176 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Villiers' love of late hours was not altogether
the result of circumstances. He was essen-
tially a night-bird. He hated the daylight,
and always called the sun a hideous planet,
which, he declared, lighted nature up badly,
and spoiled her beauty. Even in his best
days, he never became quite himself until
his kindly little friends the stars blinked
down at him out of the sky.
The brilliant critic of the " Temps," M.
Anatole France, tells us, in a kindly sketch
dedicated to the memory of De 1'Isle Adam,
that, being in want of exact information con-
cerning the poet's ancestors for some literary
work on which he was engaged, he went
one day to look him up at his lodgings at
Montmartre. He was received smilingly,
but when he announced the object of his
visit, the master of the house looked per-
plexed, doubtful, and troubled. He began
to stammer, and at last, almost in tears, he
exclaimed : " How can you expect me to
talk to you about my ancestors, the illustrious
grand master and the famous marshal, in
bright sunshine like this, at ten o'clock in
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
the morning ? " He really was in utter dis-
may, and the witty critic had to exert himself
to the utmost to restore him to his equa-
nimity and obtain the necessary information
1879 The Rue des Martyrs and the Rue Rochechouart
The poet's room His extraordinary indifference
Le"on Dierx " La De'voue'e " Strange habits
Villiers in the street The Boulevard Montmartre
Nocturnal declamations Villiers as a composer
Two operas, "Esmeralda" and " Prometheus "-
Melomania Villiers as a musical performer A
N 1879 Villiers inhabited a room
in a furnished hotel in the Rue
des Martyrs, nearly at the corner
of the Rue Clauzel. Chance had
made us neighbours, for I was living at the
corner of the Rue Rochechouart and the Rue
de Maubeuge, at the very top of an enormous
house let out in flats, and from my balcony I
could see all over Paris. As to the poet's
room, it was just as commonplace as might
have been expected in a tenth-rate furnished
lodging-house. A mahogany bed, chair, and
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 179
chest of drawers, an imitation Wilton carpet,
and the inevitable wardrobe with a looking-
glass in it. Should this last happen to gape
open, one perceived on every shelf, not linen,
nor clothes of any description, but piles of
manuscript, books, newspapers, and magazines.
The extreme indifference of the great
writer to the material comforts of life greatly
assisted him in bearing the pangs of poverty.
I never knew him take thought for the
morrow, in the literal sense of the term,
though he thought and talked a great deal
about the future in general. But he never
troubled his head as to whether he had a
shirt to his back ; and had it not been for the
care of some devoted friends, I really believe
he would have ended by going out-of-doors
half-dressed, or by spending several months
in bed for want of clothes. Luckily, a sort
of earthly providence seemed to watch over
him, and supply his most pressing needs.
One of his best loved and most faithful friends,
Leon Dierx, lived in the same house, and
looked after him without seeming to do so,
for Villiers was as touchy as he was careless.
i8o VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
But, above all others, there was a worthy
woman, a retired midwife, who had attached
herself to the poet with a canine devotion
which used to bring the tears to my eyes. The
jests, the snubbing, even the furies of her
idol, could not dishearten her. She treated
him with a delicate tenderness which the
most passionately devoted mistress might have
envied. The great writer, with the Bohemian
indifference of the man who owns nothing,
used, when he came in at dawn, worn out
with holding forth and discussing, to leave
his door unlocked, and the key in it. This
excellent soul would seize her opportunity,
come in on tiptoe, take his poor, stained,
shabby garments, mend them as best she
could, and then restore them to their place.
Often she would bring a clean shirt, and lay
it on the foot of the bed. When Villiers took
it into his head to get up and go out, about
the time the gas was being lighted in the
streets, he would put on the first thing that
came under his hand, without ever noticing
the changes in and additions to his wardrobe
made by this admirable woman, whom we
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 181
had nicknamed " La Devouee," " the devoted
one." When I became the poet's neighbour,
I often made use of her. She would put
coats and trousers of mine beside him while
he slept ; and I often had a struggle to keep
my countenance when I saw my friend dressed
up in my cast-off clothes, which used to give
him a most peculiar appearance, for while I
was long and thin, he was short and broad.
But he went on unmoved, and never suspected
The waiter of the hotel had also been
coached. He used to enter Villiers' room,
every day towards noon, carrying a large
bowl of soup, into which a penny roll had
been cut up. Should the poet be asleep, he
took care not to rouse him. If Villiers was
awake, he would call out threateningly,
" What's that ? " " Breakfast, sir ! " said the
waiter, and hastily putting the bowl down,
he departed. Mechanically Villiers would
swallow bread and soup, and think no more
of the almost daily recurring incident. He
never had any other meal before his even-
1 82 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
I got into the habit of going to see him
between three and four o'clock in the after-
noons. I generally found him sitting up in
bed, supported by several pillows, hard at work,
and only stopping his writing to roll a ciga-
rette, which, as often as not, he did not light.
Lying on the eiderdown quilt, which covered
his knees, was a pouchful of his favourite
Maryland tobacco, books of cigarette papers,
and piles of sheets covered with his fine and
delicately-formed handwriting. He never
wrote with anything but pencil, which made
the compositors' work very difficult, especially
as in reading his work over he would gene-
rally alter one word out of five.
As soon as he saw me (sometimes I stood
in front of him for ten minutes before he was
aware of my presence, so completely did his
work absorb him), he would start, and exclaim,
"What, is that you, cousin? What o'clock
is it ? The window, the window ! " and before
I could do anything to stop him, he would
jump out of bed, and, regardless of weather or
temperature, throw the window wide open.
Then he would get back into bed, put his
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 183
hand through his heavy forelock, look at me
in a confused sort of way, and end by burst-
ing out laughing. These antics usually had
the result of sending tobacco, cigarettes, and
sheets of paper flying across the room, and, if
there was any wind, whirling round the table.
I used to rush to the rescue of the precious
prose, and when I had collected and put the
scattered manuscript in order as well as I
could, I would sit down in the only armchair,
and our talks would begin. At last, towards
six o'clock, and by dint of persecution, I con-
trived to drag him from between the sheets,
and out we went into the streets.
The street ! Ah ! when one walked it arm-in-
arm with Villiers, it was no longer a common-
place and more or less symmetrical assemblage
of paving-stones, asphalte side-walks, road-
ways, shops, and houses. It became a strange
entity, with a million different living existences
a hybrid, complex, contradictory being, by
turns mysterious, terrible, cynical, innocent,
cruel, loving, tragic, or grotesque. By dint
of treading it for so many years, he had taken
root in it, and was, so to speak, one of the
184 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
strangest products, the most striking types, of
that world, at once so great and so limited, in
which certain figures stand out with such
clearness from the moving mass, that, once
seen, they can never be forgotten. Amongst
those physiognomies which seem to form an
integral part of the street crowd, and which
one misses there when death removes them,
some are dramatic, some comic, some hideous.
Some are sad, some poetic, others mad ; but
all attract your attention, and even obtrude
themselves on your notice, by some personal
originality of appearance. And in no case
more so than in that of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam,
with his supple and yet uncertain gait, his
immeasurable scorn of the laws of fashion, and
that sleep-walking look which the cruel and
much dreaded irony of his speech and laughter
belied. He knew all the secrets, all the hidden
sores, all the grandeur, of the merciless streets
of Paris. In the course of our perambula-
tions together, he would point out to me
houses of whose secret dramas, comedies, or
idylls, he knew every detail. He would ex-
plain, with that sort of stammer which added
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 185
to the charm of his talk, that the exterior
of houses generally matched their interior
history ; that there were murderous ones,
broken-hearted ones, gay ones ; that some
were passionate, some sepulchral, some volup-
tuous, ay, and some haunted even. For he
averred, and quoted many a strange story in
support of his opinion, that there were more
haunted houses in Paris than in any other
town in Europe. Several of them he had
inhabited himself. And the recent events in
the house on the Quai Voltaire would have
filled him with delight. I make no doubt
whatever he would have liked to live there.
But it was especially when we reached the
Boulevard Montmartre " a 1'heure de 1'ab-
sinthe," that Villiers became my most invalu-
able guide and cicerone. All that population
of charlatans which swarms before the cafes,
money-lenders, money-getters, and rogues
sham litterateurs and sham artists jour-
nalists, venal, if not already bought, scandal-
mongers, masters in the art of blackmail,
stealers of other men's ideas, well-dressed
blackguards, elegantly apparelled demi-mon-
186 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
daines, swindlers, rastaqiioueres, he unmasked
them all in short, sharp, vengeful sentences,
burning with implacable scorn. And in the
very bitterness of his satire, one felt how
these beasts of prey must have devoured his
flesh and his substance. They meanwhile
pretended to respe<5t, while hating and fearing
him. They dreaded those terrible sarcasms,
which the next day's papers would noise
abroad, as the galley-slave dreads the brand-
ing iron. So they bowed themselves down
before him, and as soon as he was past they
stabbed him in the back.
After these walks, Villiers often came and
shared the simple dinner which my Breton
cook used to prepare for me ; and this made
a change for him from the indescribable and
poisonous eating-house stews on which he
was in the habit of feeding.
There were two things besides the fact of
our friendship which had the precious gift of
retaining Villiers in my house during the
evening hours : my balcony, and an excellent
piano by Pleyel, which was the chief adorn-
ment of the little sitting-room.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 187
On soft clear nights we used to spend
much of our time leaning over the balcony,
smoking almost silently, and letting our
dreamy thoughts, grave or gay, wander across
the great tumultuous-looking sea of roofs,
whose dark, motionless waves seemed to lose
themselves in the mists of the horizon. Now
and then Villiers would draw himself up,
erect and very pale, and stretching out his
white hand, as though to claim the attention
of the night, he would recite in a ringing
voice some passage out of whatever work he
might be engaged upon. His memory was
so good that he knew by heart almost every-
thing he had ever written. In such surround-
ings the effect was profoundly impressive.
High over our heads the twinkling stars ;
at our feet the huge city, its continuous roar
rising towards us ; while from the lips of the
poet the harmoniously balanced periods fell
in even, eloquent flow, clear, sonorous, and
strangely melodious. He would work him-
self up at the sound of his own voice, and,
his eyes fixed in a sort of ecstasy and his
gestures raised to God, he seemed no longer
1 88 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
to belong to earth. And I listened, dumb
with admiration. And when at last he
ceased to speak, it seemed to me that a lamp
had suddenly gone out, and that the world
was darkened around me. Villiers thus
recited to me all the finest passages of " L'Eve
Future," and I vividly remember* the state
of wild delight into which we were both put
by the chapter headed "The Puppet addresses
the Night." 1 We would re-enter the drawing-
room, and Villiers, still shivering with the
excitement of inspiration, would rush to the
piano, and, striking some powerful chords,
would begin with the full strength of his
voice the magnificent choral invocation in
the first ai of " Lohengrin " " O Dieu du
del en qui faifoi ! "
If Villiers had applied himself to music,
instead of choosing literature as his profession,
I believe he might have been as remarkable
and original a composer as he was a writer.
Music is, of all the arts, the one which
requires the greatest number of innate and,
1 In the final edition this chapter bears the title
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 189
so to speak, instinctive qualities, and these
natural gifts he possessed to an extraordinary
degree. From his earliest youth he had a
feeling for rhythm and time, a correctness of
ear, and a musical memory, which astonished
his teachers. Yet he was never a good
pupil, because in this, as in everything else,
he loathed routine, and would not submit to
a humdrum daily task. But, though he
journeyed into the domain of literature, his
qualities as a gifted musician followed him
thither, and his very prose is musical.
In the course of his life he composed or
improvised a goodly number of strange
melodies, songs, melopoeia, which unfor-
tunately have never been collected. The
best known, which all his friends have heard
him sing, and to which I have already re-
ferred, interprets that wonderful poem by
Charles Baudelaire :
Nous aurons des lits plains d'odeurs legeres,
Des divans profonds comme des tombeaux.
Our beds shall be scented with sweetest perfume,
Our divans be as cool and as dark as the tomb.
1 90 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
I remember two other compositions of his
on lines by the author of the " Fleurs du
Mai." One, " Le Vin de 1' Assassin," is the
song of a man who has killed his wife, and
every verse ends with this exclamation by
the murderer, to which the music gives an
unspeakable and indescribable horror : " Je
1'oublierai si je le puis." " I will forget
her ! if I can ! " In the other, entitled
" Recueillement " ("Meditation"), he had
obtained a striking effect with the lingering
and mysterious accompaniment to which he
had set that beautiful line : " Entends, ma
chere, entends la douce nuit qui marche ! "
" List, oh, my dear ! list to the night's soft
I remember, too, though somewhat vaguely,
some warlike ironico-popular songs which
Villiers used to declaim with incomparable
power. He had composed them in 1870,
in collaboration with some other artists in
the same corps of francs-tireurs, to while
away the long night-watches of the siege ;
so that the noise of the Prussian artillery,
answering our own, was their first accompani-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 191
ment. If I add to these short-lived works
a sort of comic opera, which never had a
definite title, but whose chief and very
ludicrous characters were a king, Paf, and
his prime minister, Toe, and the chief joke in
which was a serenade beginning with the
Si ma priere criminelle
Pouvait toucher les dieux retors !
If then my criminal appeal
Should touch, for once, the wily gods !
I shall, I think, have pretty well exhausted
the list of the poet's compositions in the
lighter class of music. He was no stranger
to the more serious style. He carried in his
head (I do not believe he ever noted down
an air in his life) two complete opera scores,
choruses, orchestration, and directions for
scenery, etc., etc., etc.
One was composed on the subject of the
" Esmeralda" of Victor Hugo, so murderously
handled by Mdlle. Bertin, the other on the
" Prometheus Unbound " of ./Eschylus, put
into verse by my father. Those few privi-
192 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
leged persons who, like myself, had the good
luck to hear Villiers interpret the principal
scenes of these two operas on the piano,
will, I am sure, willingly join me in declaring
that he affected them in a most unexpected
manner, and revealed, rising above numerous
gross faults and signs of musical inexperience,
many a flash of genius and beauties of the
highest order. Anybody susceptible of the
slightest artistic emotion could hardly help
being stirred, when, after a brilliant intro-
duction, in which the tinkling of glasses, the
clash of swords, the whirl of the dance, and
the shouts of the revellers were all cunningly
mingled in seeming disorder, Villiers, in a
strident beggar's voice, began the wild open-
ing chorus of his " Esmeralda."
Vive Clopin, Roi de Thune !
Vivent les gueux de Paris !
Faisons nos coups a la brune
Heure ou tous les chats sont gris.
Dansons ! Narguons Pape et bulle ;
Et raillons nous dans nos peaux ;
Qu'Avril mouille ou que Juin brule
La plume de nos chapeaux !
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 193
Now a merry health we bring
To Paris beggars and their king !
Now we'll practise all our wiles !
On our sport old Bacchus smiles !
Merry fingers dancing snap
At Pope or bull, nor care a rap !
Let April soak or June embrown
The shabby plumes we've worn so long,
We'll gaze on them without a frown,
And turn our sorrows to a song !
Laughing at your sorry plight,
Shabby plumes we've worn so long !
Soaked by April's showers light,
Burnt by June's relentless sun !
Claude Frollo's air, with an accompaniment
of Satanic laughter, made one shiver with
Eh bien, oui ! qu'importe !
Le destin m'emporte,
La main est trop forte,
Je cede a sa loi !
Demon qui m'enivres
Qu'evoquent mes livres,
Si tu me la livres
Je me livre a toi !
194 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Regois sous ton aile
Le pretre infidele !
L'enfer avec elle
C'est mon ciel a moi !
For good then, or ill,
"Tis Destiny's will !
In terrified awe
I bow to its law !
Friend raised in my heart
By magic's black art !
If thou grant her to me,
I'll yield me to thee !
Receive 'neath thy wing
This priest full of sin !
All the heaven I desire
Is her kiss, in hell fire !
Having accentuated this last phrase with
furious energy, Villiers would spring from his
seat, in an indescribable state of excitement,
and walk up and down the room, his hands
raised to heaven, and his eyes flashing,
repeating in every sort of tone :
L'enfer avec elle
C'est mon ciel a moi !
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 195
Very different were the sensations of the
audience when the poet, lightly touching the
notes with his delicate hands, began the slow,
melancholy rhythm of the admirable chorus of
the Oceanides in the " Prometheus Unbound,"
with its arpeggio accompaniment like the beat-
ing of distant wings.
(Having calmed the paternal fears)
Je t'aime, apaise ton effroi,
Sur les vents aux rapides ailes
J 'arrive de loin jusqu'a toi.
A peine ai-je entendu dans notre grotte obscure
Le marteau sur le fer, que mon coeur s'est trouble".
J'ai monte sur ce char aile
Dans mon empressement oubliant ma chaussure,
Et la pudeur au sein voile.
Oh, corps desseche sur la pierre !
Oh, meurtrissures et douleurs !
Un nuage effrayant de pleurs
S'appesantit sur ma paupiere !
I love thee ! Prithee calm thy fear !
The fleet-winged winds have brought me here,
Hastening thy trembling heart to cheer !
196 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
Scarce did I hear the hammer fall,
With iron clang, in our dark grot,
Than terror-struck, forgetting all
In my wild haste, and recking not
Of modesty, with close-veiled breast-
With feet unsandalled, bosom bare,
I sprang, obeying love's behest,
Upon my car, and clove the air.
Oh, wasted body on the stones !
Oh, cruel bruises, bitterest pain !
My sorrow-laden spirit groans,
And from my eyes the teardrops rain !
I have said enough, I think, about the
compositions of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam to
make musicians regret that his friend Cha-
brier would never take seriously the poet's
desire that he should endeavour to note down
some of his beautiful inspirations in writing.
But in all times musicians have been jealous
of their art, and are loath to admit that an out-
sider, ignorant of fugue and counterpoint, can
do any work worth listening to. As a general
rule they may be right. But Villiers was an
exception to all rules, and it is a pity that the
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 197
composer of " Gwendoline " did not recognize
The passion for melody used to come upon
Villiers in regular crises, attacks of music
madness which lasted from a fortnight to
three weeks. During these periods he only
lived for counterpoint. The only great men,
for him, were Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and
Wagner. Everything he wrote referred to
music. Everything he did had music for its
end and aim. Every piano he came across in
his nightly wanderings served him to express
his devotion to the art. He only associated
with musicians and such musicians ! Oh, ye
gods ! My evenings at home were turned
into real splendid concerts, at which he was
at one and the same time conductor, orchestra,
accompanist, soloist, and critic ! As a pianist
he was far from attaining perfection his
fingering and time were both bad. As a
singer, his voice was unsteady, and often
broke ; but there was such fervour and fiery
enthusiasm and conviction in his delivery
and declamation, that in spite of his imper-
fections it was a deep delight to listen to him.
198 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
It was during one of these fits of music
madness that he brought me a very odd
couple of musicians, brother and sister Cor-
sicans, called, I think, Olivetti. The man
was a sort of a thin sunburnt giant, with a
black stubbly beard, long neglected hair falling
over his shoulders, and the eyes of an incen-
diary. My Breton servant always locked
up the plate-box as soon as he arrived.
He was invariably dressed in velvet, brown,
ribbed velvet, very threadbare ; a huge red silk
scarf was rolled round and round his neck, and
he wore a soft grey felt hat, with an immense
brim, victoriously cocked on one side of his
head. Although a charming pianist, he was
almost starving. He was a member of the
" Internationale," and had been in trouble with
the Italian, Russian, and French police. He
had also been compromised during the Com-
mune, and was forced to hide and to live from
hand to mouth on a few ill-paid lessons and the
poor salary of an accompanist to the singers
in tenth-rate tea-gardens. His sister, Giulia,
was a handsome soft-eyed Italian ; she had
a pretty soprano voice and some musical
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 199
knowledge. Villiers made her sing Wagner,
which she hated, and it was irresistibly funny
to see and hear his bounds of rage, and angry
shouts of indignation, when she would persist in
warbling her Italian airs. Fortune has smiled
on the pretty Giulia. A few months after I
made her acquaintance she captivated and
married a Chicago gentleman who had made
a considerable pile of dollars by cutting up,
salting, and selling pigs. She now lives in
America. She took her brother there with
her, and I have no doubt that he is not quite
such an energetic Socialist now he has money
in his pocket.
Fortunately Villiers' musical acquaintances
did not all possess such a startlingly Bohe-
mian flavour. He owed to music a friend-
ship and an admiration which brightened the
whole of his intellectual life. His intimacy
with Richard Wagner was not only a source
of consolation and intellectual enjoyment to
him, it inspired some of his noblest thoughts
and some of the finest pages he ever wrote.
The example of that marvellous and mighty
genius, insulted, opposed, and scorned to his
200 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
latest hour, without this flood of hatred and
injustice ever being- able to break down his
faith in his own prodigious powers, helped
Villiers to endure, on his part, the disdainful
smiles and indifference of his contemporaries,
strengthened him in his lofty disdain of those
well-beaten paths wherein mediocre intelli-
gences gather their quickly-fading laurels, and
fixed him immovably in his convictions and
his artistic faith. Though in my relation of
some facts concerning this friendship I speak
with veneration of Richard Wagner, I can no
longer hope to receive any blows in the good
cause. The author of "Tristan and Isolt"
is hallowed by fashion, and politicians no
longer dare to bring the ridiculous accusation of
lack of patriotism against his admirers. But
twenty years ago, and less, it was considered
the correct thing to run down Wagner's music
whether you were acquainted with it or not.
Nowadays no woman of fashion thinks her-
self complete if she does not fall into ecstasies
over the right places in " Lohengrin" and
" Tannhauser." Every self-respecting pianist
thumps the master's overtures, and all our
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
young girls study Elsa, and try to ape her
drooping and mystic postures. The outcast
of yesterday is the idol of to-day ! Well, God
be praised ! It is but the way of the world.
First introduction of Wagner and Villiers at the house of
Charles Baudelaire Failure of " Tannhauser" at
the Paris Opera in 1861 Portrait and character of
Richard Wagner His friends and champions His
intimacy with Villiers Reminiscences of his youth
and early poverty Augusta Holmes Villiers' visit
to Triebchen The "Rheingold" at Munich Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam's artistic confession of faith.
T was, as I think I have already said,
at the house of Baudelaire in 1861,
that Villiers de 1'Isle Adam first
met Richard Wagner. This meet-
ing marks the date of what was, perhaps, the
bitterest moment in the stormy life of the
great composer. He secretly nursed a ran-
corous memory of these sufferings, and, after
the war, his unworthy and undignified abuse
of Paris betrayed the feeling. By dint of
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 203
hard work and patience, combined with his
genius, he had forced Germany to receive
and recognize him as a master in his genera-
tion. But he was determined to have the
approval of Paris also, and offered " Tann-
hauser" to the Imperial Academy of Music.
The history of his failure, complete, crushing,
almost unique in theatrical history, is known
to all. Wagner's was one of those strange
individualities to which nobody could be in-
different ; he must rouse either blind admira-
tion or violent hatred, and he roused, alas !
more hatred than devotion. The chorus of
evil-speaking, abuse, and scorn, which rose
from every side after the performance of his
work in Paris, would have broken down any
other man ; but, unlike most others, the great
German master was never so much in his
element as in a desperate fight. It seemed to
endow him with fresh strength and redoubled
scorn, and he generally replied to each torrent
of abuse by some proud defiance thrown in
the teeth of the tastes, the conventionality,
the prejudices, and the jealousies of the day.
At this moment, then, when Wagner was
204 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
shining with all the light of his indomitable
determination, Villiers, young and enthusiastic
as he was, met him for the first time. This
interview never faded from his recollection.
Richard Wagner, with his high, remarkable
forehead, almost terrifying in its development,
his deep blue eyes, with their slow, steady,
magnetic glance, his thin, strongly-marked
features, changing from one shade of pallor
to another, his imperious-looking hooked nose,
his delicate, thin-lipped, unsatisfied, ironical
mouth, his exceedingly strong projecting and
pointed chin, seemed to the poet like the
archangel of celestial combat. And on his
side, in those hours of bitterness, the soul of
the great musician must have been strongly
drawn towards those few select spirits, who,
in spite of adverse clamour, boldly took up
his quarrel and defended and admired him.
His strong friendship with Catulle Mendes,
Baudelaire, Villiers, and a few others, dated
from this epoch ; but similarity of tastes, and a
way of looking at dreams and reality, men
and things, identical with the other's, specially
attracted the young poet and the already
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 205
grey-haired musician towards each other.
They were, besides, united by a common
passion for midnight walks. Wandering about,
careless of weather, hour, or locality, through
the mysterious sleeping streets of Paris, the
two friends seldom separated before the dawn.
Once, as they went down a long dreary street
which ends at the Quai Saint Eustache, Wag-
ner suddenly pointed, with a tragic gesture, to
the window of a garret at the very top of a
high house. There it was that he had really
despaired ; there he had almost died of
hunger, had meditated suicide, and there, too,
in the midst of the blackest poverty, he had
written one of his most powerful and poetic
works. He told Villiers, in that French
stuffed with Teutonisms which made his
conversation so odd-sounding, all the extra-
ordinary adventures of his youth in Paris :
how, towards 1839, impelled by destiny,
he suddenly left Riga, in the theatre of
which town he conducted the orchestra, and
embarked on a sailing-ship which was going to
London, intending to go thence to Paris. A
fearful storm wrecked the vessel on the Nor-
206 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
wegian coast ; but Wagner did not lose courage,
and reached the end of his journey. Almost
unknown as he was, and in a most precarious
pecuniary position, he saw the doors of the
Parisian theatres scornfully shut in his face.
Spurred by necessity, he tried to write ballads
for the concerts, but, alas ! he was not the man
to write French romances, and his efforts only
aroused derision. To be brief, hidden in that
garret, like a fox buried in his lair, penniless,
starving, he was meditating suicide, when a
musical publisher came and proposed to him
to arrange some operatic airs for the cornet a
piston; and so the cornet a piston was the
instrument of Richard Wagner's salvation !
Living with the utmost economy, he con-
trived, by the end of a year of unexampled
privation, to get together the necessary sum
for hiring a piano. " I trembled in every
limb," he said to Villiers, " when I first ran
my fingers over the keys, but I soon found, to
my exquisite joy, that I was still a musician."
And now the muse of inspiration poured
out upon him the fulness of her riches. The
memory of the shipwreck in which he had so
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 207
lately shared, of the sea as he had seen it
under the awful flashes of the tempest, the
deep fiords, the bluff promontories, haunted
his imagination ; then suddenly he saw, flying
across the foggy Scandinavian sea swift as an
arrow, illuminated by a dazzling lightning flash,
the dreary ship of that legendary hero, " The
Flying Dutchman." And in the bare, cold,
Parisian garret, Richard Wagner, indifferent
now to all physical suffering, alone with his
genius, and with his shabby, hired piano, com-
posed and wrote that splendid lyric poem which
he christened " Der Fliegende Hollander."
But if I was to give way to the temptation
of recalling all Villiers' conversations concern-
ing his great and musically-gifted friend,
another volume would have to be grafted on
to this one of my recollections of himself.
Never, indeed, was the author of " Axel "
more eloquent, and indeed prolix, than when
his theme was Richard Wagner. One felt
that a part of the soul of the master had
literally entered his ; and when he para-
phrased in words some one of his works, he
gave you, so to speak, an illusion of music.
208 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
In the fine book which Catulle Mendes has
dedicated to the glory of the German maestro,
he relates that Villiers had written down one
of these paraphrases, I think the one of the
prelude to " Lohengrin." I do not think it has
ever been published I have never been able
to come upon it. If the former director of the
" Revue Fantaisiste " has the work of his late
comrade in his possession, and can be induced
to publish it, he will deserve the gratitude of
all lovers of literature.
Such was Villiers' passionate cultus for
Wagner, that, in spite of all his poverty, I
might say penury, he would contrive to make
long journeys into Switzerland and Germany
in order to enjoy the company, the conversa-
tion, and the music of the author of " Tristan
and Isolt." During one of these distant ex-
peditions to Triebchen, near Lucerne, he came
upon a young girl whom he had already met
in Paris, and whose splendid talents, now well
known and uncontested, he had been among
the first to recognize and applaud I refer to
Mdlle. Augusta Holmes. Villiers was en-
raptured at once with this young and beautiful
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 209
artist, admirably gifted, filled with sacred fire,
ready to make any sacrifice on the altar of art,
and making light, in her sturdy confidence, of
the thousand obstacles which bar a woman's
entrance into the road to glory. Long after-
wards, in 1885, the great writer, in a charm-
ing article, written in an enthusiastic and
stirring strain, detailed his recollections of
his intercourse with the young musician. I
quote two passages from it. I must premise
that Villiers saw her for the first time at
Versailles, in the house of her father, Mr.
Dalkeith Holmes, in the Rue de 1'Orangerie,
whither he had been carried off rather against
the grain, by M. Camille Saint Saens, who
was his companion that day :
" That evening, we heard some oriental
melodies, the earliest musical thoughts of the
future authoress of 'Les Argonautes,' 'Lutece,'
' Irelande,' and 'Pologne,' and which seemed
to me to be already almost free from the
conventionalities of the old style of music.
" Augusta Holmes had one of those in-
telligent voices which can adapt itself to any
register and indicate the most delicate shades
210 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
of a musical work. I am generally inclined
to mistrust those cleverly-managed organs,
which often (to the appreciation of an un-
initiated audience) immensely heighten the
value of a commonplace composition. But
in this case the air was worthy of the accent,
and I was enchanted with the ' Sirene,' the
' Chanson du Chamelier/ and the ' Pays
des Reves,' not to mention the * Hymne
Irlandais/ which the young composer inter-
preted so that pine-encircled glades and
distant heaths rose before our mind's eye. It
was altogether a bright spot, musically speak-
ing, pointing to an inevitably brilliant future.
The evening ended with some passages from
Wagner's ' Lohengrin,' lately published in
France, and to which Saint Saens introduced
us. The young composer was passionately
smitten with the new music, and her admira-
tion for the author of ' Tristan and Isolt ' has
never since belied itself."
Here is the account of the meeting at
Triebchen : " Two months before the Ger-
man war I met Mdlle. Holmes at Triebchen,
near Lucerne, in Richard Wagner's own
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 211
house ; her father having, in spite of his great
age, decided to take the journey to Munich,
in order that the young composer might hear
the first part of the ' Nibelungenlied.'
"'A little less sentiment for my wishes,
mademoiselle ! ' said Wagner, after he had
listened to her with the clear-sighted and
prophetic attention of genius. 'I do not
want to be, to a creative genius like yours,
the manchineel-tree whose shadow stifles all
the birds that come within it. A word of
advice ! Do not belong to any school espe-
cially not to mine ! '
" Richard Wagner did not wish the ' Rhein-
gold' to be played at Munich. Although
the score had been published, he objected to
the work being seen apart from the three
other portions of the ' Nibelungenlied.' His
great dream, ultimately realized at Bayreuth,
was to give a representation lasting four
successive evenings, of this, the great work
of his life. But the impatience of his young
and fanatical admirer, the King of Bavaria,
had broken all bounds, and the ' Rheingold '
was to be played by ' royal command.' Wag-
212 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
ner, who had refused all participation and all
assistance, anxious and saddened by the way
in which the unity of his great masterpiece
was about to be destroyed, had forbidden
any friend of his to attend the performance.
And many musicians and men of letters,
amongst them myself, who had twice travelled
to Germany to hear the master's music,
hardly knew whether to obey his distressing
injunction or not.
" ' I shall look upon anybody who coun-
tenances that massacre, as my personal
enemy,' he said to us.
" Mdlle. Holmes, although driven into sub-
mission by the threat, was reduced to despair !
" However, the letter of Kapellmeister
Hans Richter, who was conducting the
orchestra at Munich, having somewhat re-
assured Wagner, his resentment against the
passionate zealots of his music softened, and
we took advantage of the momentary calm
to depart, almost on the sly.
" I have before me as I write a letter, and
rather a bitter one, which Wagner wrote
me to Munich, and in which he says, 'So
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 213
you have gone with your friends to see how
people can toy with a serious work well !
well ! I count on some inexterminable pas-
sages in it, to atone for much that might
appear incomprehensible ! '
" The predictions of the master were falsi-
fied by the brilliant triumph of the ' Rhein-
gold ' a triumph more foreseen than actually
apparent, for this opera is only fully in-
telligible when seen in conjunction with the
three other portions of the ' Nibelungenlied,'
of which it is the key. All his adherents
were present at the performance, in spite of
his threats and prohibitions, and I remember
seeing that night, in the first row of the
visitors' gallery, Mdlle. Holmes, sitting next
to the Abbe Liszt, and following the render-
ing of the opera in the orchestral score-
book belonging to the illustrious musician "
("Vie Moderne," Paris, 1885).
Need I add that Villiers was one of the
first Frenchmen to hurry to Bayreuth in
1876, when, thanks to the sumptuous munifi-
cence of the King of Bavaria, Richard Wag-
ner was able at last to realize his great dream.
2i 4 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
I should like to close this veracious chro-
nicle of the fraternal relations which existed
between the great German master and the
great French thinker, by quoting a page or
two written by Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, which,
though almost unknown to scholars, would
nevertheless be worthy in every way to
become the fitting preface of his collected
works. Villiers, in a purely imaginary con-
versation, put into the mouth of the beloved
master, has summed up all his own artistic
and religious convictions.
When we consider how hard and miserable
was the life of him who poured out his soul
and his conscience in this magnificent con-
fession of an artist's faith, we can hardly
read it without deep emotion.
" One twilight evening we were sitting in
the darkening room looking over the garden,
the rare words we interchanged, with long
spaces of silence between them, scarcely dis-
turbing our pleasing meditations, when I
asked Wagner, without useless perambula-
tion, whether it was, so to speak, artificially
(by dint of science and intellectual power),
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 215
that he had succeeded in investing his works,
' Rienzi,' ' Tannhauser/ ' Lohengrin,' ' The
Flying Dutchman,' even the ' Meistersinger '
and ' Parsifal,' over which he was already
brooding, with that strongly mystic quality
which emanates from them all ? Whether,
in short, he had been sufficiently freethinking
and independent of conscience to be no more
of a Christian than the subject of these lyric
dramas demanded of him ; and, finally, whether
he looked at Christianity in the same light
as that in which he viewed those Scandi-
navian myths, the symbolism of which he
had so magnificently illustrated in the Nibe-
lungen Ring. This question was almost
authorized, indeed, by something which had
struck me very much in one of his principal
operas, ' Tristan and Isolt,' viz., that in
that work, in which the most intense pas-
sionate love is scornfully ascribed to the
influence of a love philtre, the name of God
is never mentioned a single time.
" I shall always remember the look Wag-
ner fixed on me out of the depths of his
wonderful eyes. ' Why,' he said with a smile,
zi6 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
' if I did not feel in my inmost soul the
living light and love of that Christian faith
of which you speak, my works, which all
bear witness to it, and in which I have in-
corporated all my mental powers, as well as
the whole of my lifetime, would be the works
of a liar, of an ape ! How could I be childish
enough to work myself up into a frenzy
about what at bottom I should know to be
an imposture ? My art is my prayer ; and,
believe me, no true artist can sing otherwise
than as he believes, speak but of what he
loves, write otherwise than as he thinks.
Those who lie, betray it in their work, which
thenceforth becomes sterile and valueless,
for no true work of art can be accomplished
without disinterestedness and sincerity.
" ' Yes ! he who for the sake of some low
interests, for success, or for money, tries to
make a fictitious faith stir in a so-called work
of art, betrays himself, and only brings forth
a corpse. Should such a traitor pronounce
the name of God, not only does that name
not signify to the listener what he who pro-
nounces it would have it mean, but being,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 217
as it is, a word, and therefore a living thing,
it gives, by his supreme profanation, the lie
to him who utters it. No human being can
be deceived by such a device, and the author
of it can only be valued at his proper worth
by those of his own genus, who recognize in
his want of truth that which they are them-
" ' The first sign that marks the real artist
is a burning, precise, sacred, unalterable faith ;
for in every artistic production worthy of
a human being, the artistic value and the
living value are blended together, in the dual
unity of the body and the soul. The work
of a man without faith can never be the
work of an artist, because it will always lack
that living flame which raises, enraptures, fills,
warms, and fortifies the soul. It will always
be like a corpse, galvanized into life by some
trivial machine. At the same time let this be
clearly understood: if, on the one hand, Know-
ledge alone can only produce clever amateurs,
great inventors of "methods," of modes of
action, of expressions, more or less consum-
mately skilful in the manufacture of their
218 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
mosaics, and also shameless plagiarists, who,
to put one off the scent, will assimilate
millions of incongruous sparks of intelligence,
which lose their brightness when they re-
appear out of the tinselled emptiness of such
minds, on the other hand, Faith alone can
only produce and give vent to those sublime
cries of the soul which, because they cannot
properly formulate themselves, appear, alas !
to the vulgar, to be but incoherent clamour.
The true artist, he who can create, and put
together, and transfigure his ideas, needs
these two great gifts indissolubly united,
Knowledge and Faith. As for myself, since
you ask me, above all things I am a Christian,
and the accents which touch you in my work
owe their inspiration to that alone.' '
The marquis and the marquise Villiers' filial tender-
ness A monomania for speculation A letter from
the marquis Villiers' contributions to thepress The
" Figaro " " La Republique des Lettres " Catulle
Mendes J. K. Huysmans The "Contes Cruels"
Two quotations Villiers' high spirits His loss of
illusion A study by M. G. Guiches Villiers as a
talker and a mimic Some unpublished traits of Dr.
Triboulat Bonhomet Bonhomet the commander-in-
chief Bonhomet the ermine-hunter Bonhomet ful-
filling the letter of the Scriptures Bonhomet's true
adventures at Bayreuth The political opinions of Vil-
liers de 1'Isle Adam An unexpected toast A rupture.
E AN WHILE, lost in a poor and
remote quarter of Paris, leading
a lonely existence made up of priva-
tion and sacrifices, a frail old lady
lived on, supported and consoled by her great
love for her Matthias. Yes, the old marquis
and marquise were still in the land of the
220 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
living. Poverty, age, and suffering, cold and
hunger, had not succeeded in putting out
their feeble lamp. The marquise, as I have
said, only lived for and in her son, and she
bravely endured the cruellest trials, rinding her
buckler against all ills and her consolation in
all her sorrows in the worship and tenderness
of her boy. Villiers was more than a good
son he was an admirable son. I think he
poured out all the treasures of tenderness
which were garnered in that great heart of his
upon his mother. When he spoke of his
parents, especially of her (he never did
mention them except to his closest intimates,
and those gentlemen of the boulevards never
heard him profane the sacred name of father
or of mother in their company), the tears
would come into his eyes. The moment his
pen brought him in any money, he would tear
off to the Avenue Malakoff (where the old
people inhabited two modest rooms), to share
his earnings with them, and would return
from such expeditions with a radiant face.
Nevertheless, the marquis used to cause him
some considerable trouble. Time, far from
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 221
calming the old nobleman's mania for specula-
tion, had only intensified it. Age and infir-
mity had not diminished his activity, and he
walked the streets from morning till night on
the look-out for wonderful opportunities. No-
body, luckily, paid him much attention, but he
would try to insist on whirling Matthias away
with him, and making him share in the execu-
tion of the extraordinary plans he used to pro-
pound daily. Hence arose occasional and
lively discussions, which ended in a hearty
laugh on Villiers' part, and the indignant
retirement of his father, who would exclaim,
" Well, in spite of all your talent, Matthias, you
will never be anything but an empty dream ! "
The old marquis kept his dreams and visions
as long as he lived. The very year of his
death he wrote his son the following letter,
which depicts the extraordinary state of this
astonishing visionary's mind better than the
longest psychological study :
" MY DEAR MATTHIAS,
" We desire to make known our good
222 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
fortune to you. I hereby introduce to you,
Mr. L , who is at this moment the
possessor of 25,000 francs, and who, at this
time of writing, owns a well-furnished dining-
room, and who is about to furnish his recep-
tion rooms with splendid pink satin curtains
(which I have had in my hands), also a good
piano, a superior sofa, and furniture to match.
Besides this, he will have a beautiful country
place, with a magnificent feudal residence
with turrets, a park, fields, meadows, and
vineyards, and several leagues of forest,
wherein we shall be able to exercise our
prowess as sportsmen. And we shall own
(in a perfectly regular manner) some mines,
the riches of which I expect you to help me to
work, with our own capital.
"JOSEPH DE VILLIERS DE L'!SLE ADAM."
This period of Villiers' life, although the
necessary investigations for the writing of
"L'Eve Future" absorbed him very much, was
exceedingly productive, and his literary noto-
riety enabled him to place his copy very easily.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 223
He contributed tales to several daily papers
which piqued themselves on their literary
columns. The " Figaro," which, to its honour
be it said, always liked and appreciated him,
used to receive his work with deference. But
his most active collaboration was given to a
new magazine, " La Republique des Lettres,"
a publication too purely artistic to have any
chance of longevity in this matter-of-fact
century. In the office of the " Republique
des Lettres" he found many of the friends of
his earlier days, who had rallied round the
former director of the " Revue Fantaisiste,"
Catulle Mendes. Like himself these artists
were all growing old and grey in the heavy
harness of life and thought. All of them had
lost the greater part of their illusions, but all
had preserved intact their sacred and coura-
geous love of the ideal and the beautiful, and
their indignant horror of empty platitudes.
To this well-trained phalanx some youthful
spirits had joined themselves, and here De
1'Isle Adam laid the foundation of his friend-
ship with a young writer of special and original
talent, J. K. Huysmans. This acquaintance
224 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
was to ripen, some years later, into a deep,
tender, manly affection. Providence had
marked out the now justly celebrated author
of " A Rebours," and so many other deep
and clever works, to soften by his presence
and his delicate strong-heartedness the cruel
death-agony of the poet. I shall return later
to the subject of this intimacy.
Villiers also busied himself with collect-
ing his scattered tales into a volume called
" Contes Cruels," which, published the following
year by Calmann Levy, set the seal upon his
reputation as a great artist. This work,
better perhaps than any other, shows the
author's complex, original, and many-sided
talent. His symbolism is magnificently exem-
plified in such pieces of writing as " Impatience
de la Foule " and " Vox Populi ; " his mysticism
shines brilliantly in "Vera;" his deep and
bitter sense of philosophical raillery produces
those strangely attractive, almost prophetic
tales, " La Machine a Gloire," " L'Affichage
Celeste," " L'Etna chez soi," to which last the
recent anarchical struggles in Paris give a
striking reality. And in those brilliant pages
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 225
of " L'Annonciateur," which even one fresh
from the perusal of Gustave Flaubert's " He-
rodias " must needs read with profound emo-
tion, the poet and the idealist pours forth all
the overflowing wealth of his imagination.
It was concerning " L'Annonciateur" that its
author wrote : " If I think great thoughts,
people will say that what I write is fine litera-
ture ; yet it is but the clear expression of my
thought, and not literature at all ; for that has
no real existence, beyond being the clear ex-
pression of what I think."
He has elsewhere described his own idio-
syncrasy, and his destiny as an artist and a
thinker, in these remarkable and sadly sym-
bolic terms : " Alas ! we are like some mighty
crystal vase of Eastern story, filled with the
pure essence of dead roses, and hermetically
enveloped in a triple covering of wax, of gold,
and of parchment. One single drop of the
essence thus preserved within the precious
urn (the fortune of a whole race, handed
down by inheritance as a sacred charge,
hallowed by the ancestral blessings), suffices
to perfume many vessels of pure water, which
226 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
in their turn will embalm the air of the tomb
or dwelling wherein they are set, for many a
year. But (and herein lies our crime) we do
not resemble those other jars filled with com-
moner perfume, scentless and melancholy phials
not worth reclosing, whose virtue weakens and
melts away under every passing breath." It
would be wrong to imagine Villiers as a sple-
netic and silent person in everyday life, not-
withstanding the bitterness of his irony and
his immense range of thought. He was gifted,
on the contrary, with a robust cheerfulness,
never more apparent than when he was
struggling with difficulty. In the early days
of his Paris life, he had given rein, in all
companies, to that enjoyment of the fact of
living which expressed itself in his case by an
overflow of wit and humour. But he soon
perceived, alas ! that the raptures of his audi-
ence were not disinterested. When these
literary good fellows saw De 1'Isle Adam
coming, they would get out their note-
books, and his sayings, his ideas for stories,
his humorous fancies, were all carefully
collected by these skimmers of the literary
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 227
pot. So that the poor poet, opening a news-
paper or magazine at random, would find his
own ideas and creations shamefully travestied
and mutilated, and impudently signed with
names which bore no resemblance to his
These underhand thefts, and many another
mean treachery, poisoned a naturally sincere
and simple nature. M. G. Guiches has very
happily reproduced the change which took
place in the poet's heart, actually affecting
even his physical appearance, in a remark-
able study of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, published
in the " Nouvelle Revue," May, 1890.
" When he at last became aware of this
pilfering," says M. Guiches, " when he under-
stood the interested object of the raptures
which used to encourage his ready tongue,
there was a sudden reaction within him. His
soul, naturally as open as the day, shrank
within itself, his ingenuousness intrenched
itself behind a distrust as excessive as his
simplicity had once been. His speech grew
hesitating, shorn of its former frank uncon-
strainedness. Sudden flashes of suspicion filled
228 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
his eyes with sudden shyness. His hand was
no longer outstretched ; it waited yours, and
was only offered with the indolence bred of
But when Villiers was far from the boule-
vard, far from professional literary men,
when he was warmed and revived in an atmo-
sphere of sincere friendship and admiration,
he became himself again, and his dazzling
gaiety poured itself forth in all sorts of un-
expecled conceits. It was like a perpetual
show of fireworks, and the supply of squibs
and crackers, Bengal lights and Roman
candles, used to seem inexhaustible.
He was not only a good story-teller, he
could mimic like a great and original aclor,
and he thus gave the innumerable personages
created by his imagination an air of genuine,
if often fantastic reality, simulating, as he
would, their looks and voices, their gestures
and their attitudes. Amongst all these crea-
tions, which seem as if they belong to the
dreams of Hoffman, Edgar Poe, or Dean
Swift, Villiers' favourite was always the illus-
trious Triboulat Bonhomet, " the son of little
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 229
Dr. Amour Bonhomet, who had adventures
down in the coal mines."
During many a delightful evening, and in
the course of those long midnight rambles
through Paris which used to pass so quickly
away in his company, I have witnessed many
of the metamorphoses of that remarkable and
scientific individual. For Bonhomet, accord-
ing to his creator's notion, was, while always
continuing the archetype of his century, to
be reincarnated in every position a man could
occupy. He was to be, turn about, professor,
minister of state, police agent, philosopher,
explorer, and lecturer. I remember some of
these transmigrations, which were never pub-
lished, Villiers having been prevented by
death from putting them into circulation.
First of all, there is a General Bonhomet,
commanding-in- chief, who harangues his
troops before the battle. He points out to
them that the idea of glory and patriotism is
quite out of date, and calls upon them to court
death in defence of agriculture, manufactures,
and commerce, the three sources of the pros-
perity of France. " Soldiers ! let us have no
2 3 o VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
more empty enthusiasm for hollow and ex-
ploded Utopias ! Fight, conquer, and die for
the safety of our railway system ! "
Then, as a pendant to Bonhomet the slayer
of swans, there was Bonhomet the ermine-
hunter, who, having read that one of these
immaculate creatures dies as soon as a stain
marks its snowy whiteness, hides himself with
a wonderful silent gun, charged with ink, and
thus exterminates several dozen !
But the boldest conception of all is, perhaps,
Bonhomet the religious man.
After a visit to Patmos, the details of which
beggar all description, the doctor determines
to fulfil the letter of the Scriptures, " that there
shall not remain of Jerusalem one stone upon
another." And having observed, as he passed
through the holy places, that arches, walls, and
houses were still standing, he returns to Jeru-
salem, accompanied by a contractor and an
army of workmen, to accomplish the scriptural
prophecy to the letter, and leave no stone upon
its neighbour ! I must not bid a final farewell
to the doctor without detailing an authentic
but little known anecdote, in which he plays
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 231
the chief part. During the autumn of 1 8 79,
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, together with Judith
Gautier, Catulle Mendes, and many other
musical adepts, had gone to Bayreuth to see
the divine Wagner, and assist at the per-
formance of " Parsifal " and the " Nibe-
lungenlied." The great master, who was all
powerful at the Bavarian Court, presented
Villiers to the king and his august guests,
among whom was that Grand Duke who is
now Czar of all the Russias. Wagner had
talked so often about Triboulat Bonhomet
that, willy nilly, the poet had to agree to give
a reading from his works. For this purpose
the whole court was assembled.
From the outset there was a murmur of
stifled laughter and a rustle of unfurling fans.
As the reading proceeded, the gaiety of the
audience increased, growing quite noisy, and
unchecked by the presence of the king, who,
for that matter, laughed louder than the rest.
Villiers was much astonished, and a little un-
easy even, at this extraordinary hilarity. He
knew well enough that his Bonhomet had a
very comic side, but he never expected to
232 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
raise such a gust of merriment among per-
sonages so grave and important. At last the
tempest of laughter rose so high that the
reader ceased and cast a glance, full of vague
suspicion, round his audience. The Grand
Duke of Saxe -Weimar, who sat beside him,
touched his shoulder, and pointed to a person
sitting just opposite them. Villiers, with a
little sharp cry, dropped the manuscript from
his trembling fingers, and gave evident signs
of lively terror. There, in front of him, sur-
rounded by a bevy of beautiful women, gazing
at him with shining eyes, his enormous mouth
open in stentorian laughter, his huge hands
leading the applause, was Dr. Triboulat Bon-
homet himself, in flesh and bone (principally
bone !). It was Liszt ! From the very first
line of the manuscript, which minutely de-
scribed the doclor, the whole audience had
been struck with the resemblance between
the great pianist and Triboulat Bonhomet,
and as the description went on the likeness
increased dress, gestures, habits, all bore a
striking similarity. One person alone did not
perceive the identity, and he laughed louder
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 233
than the rest Liszt himself. As the situation
worked itself out, the fits of laughter became
almost convulsing, for Villiers read on with
the most imperturbable gravity. After this
incident quelgiornopiu nonsileggemmoavante!*
I have spoken but little, up till now, of the
political convictions of the author of the
" Contes Cruels." The truth is, that though
he was Royalist by racial instinct and Catho-
lic by conviction, he considered contemporary
politics, in the depth of his heart, as a low and
vulgar science, the triumph of lying, hypocrisy
and platitude, and an end unworthy of the pur-
suit of minds inspired by the divine breath.
Nevertheless, during his short career as editor
of " La Croix et 1'Epee," he constituted him-
self the champion of the cause of the Naun-
dorffs. I fancy that the strange mystery
which even now surrounds the origin of his
claim, fired the poet's imagination more than
the personal qualities of the starveling pre-
He remained a Naundorfnst even after he
1 "That day no further leaf we did uncover." Inferno,
234 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
was no longer at the head of the newspaper,
and was convinced of the incontestability of the
claims of the future Charles XI. to the throne
of France. Let no one hastily conclude that
this was nothing but his fancy. More serious
persons than Villiers, after minute research,
have shared his conviclions on this head.
Jules Favre, who defended the pretensions of
the Naundorffs before the French tribunals,
was persuaded of the rightfulness of his
clients' claim. Since that time much evi-
dence has come to light, the authenticity of
which it would be hard to disprove, showing
that at all events Louis XVII. did not die
in the Temple. The Comte d'Herisson, in a
curious book published some years ago, and
called " Le Cabinet Noir," has elucidated all
this strange affair very clearly, and a perusal
of his work, supported as it is by documentary
evidence, is calculated to inspire doubt as to
the rival pretensions of the two branches of
the Bourbon family in the most incredulous
and sceptical minds. 1
1 Since the publication of the Comte d'Herisson's book,
another has appeared on this knotty point, " L'Enfant du
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 235
However that may be, Villiers was still, in
1879, an enthusiastic partisan of the Naun-
dorffs, when an incident which took place that
year completely separated them.
A few faithful followers of the monarch in
expectancy had joined together to give a
dinner in his honour. Villiers was sitting,
silent and absorbed, on the prince's right.
Among the guests was the old Comte de
F , who for forty years had devoted
everything intellect, energy, time, and for-
tune to the welfare and success of him whom
he looked upon as his legitimate sovereign.
The august guest lost his temper (on what
account I know not) with his old and faithful
servant, and, before all the assembled com-
pany, he so overwhelmed him with reproaches
and abuse that the poor old man burst into
sobs. A stupor of indignant astonishment
fell upon the little gathering ; and in the
midst of the general silence, Villiers rose,
Temple," by the Baron de Gaugler, published by Savine.
An authoritative work, proving the right of the Naundorffs
to style themselves the descendants of the Dauphin of
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
glass in hand, and turned towards the prince.
"Sire!" he said, "I drink your majesty's
health. Your claims are certainly beyond
dispute. You have all the ingratitude of a
Fragments of a journal kept in 1879 A woman of
fashion bewitched Villiers and Mar' Yvonne A
mystery Villiers a candidate at the elections of
the Conseil General Opinions of the press
Meetings The plans of the future councillor
My departure from Paris Our separation Descrip-
tion of Villiers in 1880 by G. Guiches.
UN TING through old papers for
any traces I might possess of the
dear dead friend whose life I am
endeavouring to relate, I have
come across several sheets of notes, written
about this time, towards the end of 1879.
This journal is full of Villiers, with whom
I was living in almost daily intercourse,
and though it may be devoid of any other
merit, it has at all events this one, that it
was drawn from the life, and that it faithfully
reproduces my original impressions. From
238 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
it, therefore, I cull the story of one of the
last incidents in the poet's Parisian life of
which I was a witness. The reader will, I
am sure, forgive my endeavouring to vary
the monotony of my tale by the quotation :
"October, 1879. Matthias has been back
from Bayreuth for some days, and gave me
only yesterday an exemplification of the extra-
ordinary bewitching power of his conversa-
tion over every human being who hears it.
A distant relation of my own, young, charm-
ing, elegant, and deplorably frivolous, is just
now passing through Paris. She has come
to make some purchases, to buy a trousseau,
and I really believe her sole mission in life
is to match ribbons and silks. God alone
knows what is inside the head of a young
and fashionable woman coming to Paris, with
a pocketful of money, to ' do her shopping ! '
It appears to me that nothing exists for her
beyond shops, milliners, dressmakers, lace
vendors, jewellers, and so forth. Yesterday,
however, Madame de X was good enough
to come to my house to rest a moment, and
talk about our own part of the country.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 239
But she had shown me her list of engage-
ments, and made her conditions beforehand.
Half an hour by the clock, neither more nor
less, she was to spend with me. Towards
half-past two, that is, after the first quarter
of an hour, in came Matthias, with whom she
had not been previously acquainted. . . .
Well ! when Mar' Yvonne, my Breton servant,
brought in the lamp at six o'clock, my
charming cousin was still sitting on the sofa,
gazing admiringly at Villiers, who, standing
in the middle of the room, was demonstrating
to her, with unutterably comic gestures, how
the King of Bavaria valsed! Who can tell
how the miracle was accomplished ? These
performances of his beggar all description ;
they must be seen to be realized. During
yesterday afternoon Villiers played the piano,
sang, and acted through the whole of the Nibe-
lungen trilogy, interspersing his performance
with queer stories, vile puns, astonishing
reflections, and bitter jests. He imitated one
after the other, and with astonishing power,
all the august, illustrious, and crackbrained
people he had met at Bayreuth, from the
240 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
king and the princesses down to the crazy-
looking musical professors from the German
universities. He gave us a magnificent
description of the way in which the impetuous
and tyrannical maestro, Wagner, ruled the
little court with his iron rod, and lorded it
over the king just as an usher in a school
will lord it over a lower boy. He was, in
short, as he can be now and then, inimitable
and irresistible. ' Yes,' my young relative
said, ' I am furious and delighted too ! I
never was so much entertained in all my
life ! He is more amusing than all the Paris
theatres put together.'
" When I came back I found him disputing
with Mar' Yvonne in my bedroom. He was
turning over the contents of my wardrobe,
to choose himself some white cravats. ' Ah,
these are what I want,' he said ; ' serious
ties, very serious ties, most serious ties ! ' He
wrapped three up in an old newspaper, and
was going away without speaking to me after
a hearty silent handshake. I tried to ques-
tion him. ' Hush ! a mystery ! of capi-
tal importance ! you shall know all about
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 241
it by-and-by ! ' and he went off bursting with
laughter. There was an alarming look in
his eyes which made me suspect some terrible
humbug. I cross-questioned Mar' Yvonne.
She said : ' I am sure, sir, that Monsieur
Matthias is plotting something. He has
brought me two shirts to iron, and he
said to me, " You understand, Mar' Yvonne,
that they must be shiny as shiny as the
inside of your saucepans ! " What can it all
mean ? Has he any matrimonial projects ? '
" November, 1879. There were no matri-
monial plans, and Villiers' new mad project
surpasses for comicality the best conception
of the immortal Labiche. He has offered
himself as a candidate in the i yth Arrondisse-
ment at the elections to the Conseil General
of the Seine, which are to take place on
the loth of next January ! Nor is this all !
the progenitor of Bonhomet is supported by
the Royalist committee in Paris, which intro-
duces him, patronizes him, and pays all his
electioneering expenses. It seems utterly
improbable, and still it is absolutely true.
He has bewitched the most solemn per-
242 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
sonages, captivated the stiffest dowagers, and
gained the enthusiastic support of the clergy
of his parish. Those shirts and cravats were
for his meetings, of which it appears he has
already held two, both brilliantly successful.
" His adversary is the redoubtable negro,
Heredia, a red Republican for all his black
skin. All the newspapers to-day are talking
of this unexpected candidature, and laughing
at it. The ' Figaro ' is, as always, sym-
pathetic to Villiers, but it looks upon the
whole thing as somewhat of a poetic fancy.
Some old Royalist papers, however, such as
the 'Gazette de France,' support the claims
of the great writer with many laudatory
phrases. This very day I have had a long
talk with my cousin about the whole busi-
ness, and I have convinced myself that, in
spite of pleasantries and banter, he does not
at heart look upon it as at all a matter of
humbug. I am certain he has a secret hope
and desire of success. How full of contra-
diction is the human breast ! This admirable
poet, this artist par excellence, has just let
fall to me this phrase, incomprehensible as
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 243
coming from his lips : ' After all, I hold
Bulwer's opinion that the really successful
man should begin by literature, go on to
public life, and end in office.' Fortunately
this is but a dream of ambition flitting across
his mighty brain, and he will soon laugh at
it himself. He has, moreover, no chance
of being elected, whatever his illusions may
be. He told me himself that he had some-
what alarmed some worthy delegates who
interviewed him, by stating that, if he was
honoured by election, he should demand,
from the aesthetic point of view, the demo-
lition of several monuments, such as the
Opera House, the Church of St. Sulpice, and
the Pantheon. And he also desires, with the
object of providing a refuge for literary men,
to obtain the re-establishment of the Debtors'
Prison ! "
Let me add to these fragments of per-
sonal notes the following passage extracted
from an article I have already mentioned,
and which was dedicated by Villiers de 1'Isle
Adam to the glory of Mdlle. Augusta
244 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
" I had been chosen as the candidate of
the Royalist committee at the elections for
the Conseil General of Paris, on the roth of
January, 1880. If my memory serves me,
my candidature was for the iyth Arrondisse-
ment, in opposition to that redoubtable revo-
lutionist, M. de Heredia. It may be added,
by the way, that the results of these elections,
within five-and-twenty votes, being nowa-
days perfectly well known beforehand, I had
accepted the nomination solely for the sake
of the honour of being beaten.
" I obtained, as I expected, the suffrages
of six hundred electors ; my worthy anta-
gonist (whose touching fugitive poetry the
' Figaro ' was then publishing) obtained the
resulting majority of a thousand or twelve
hundred votes to which he owes his triumph ;
and thus both men of letters were content.
" But with regard to what concerns us just
now, the amusing part of the business is this :
At that time the project of an Academy of
Lyric Composition for the town of Paris was
already much discussed, and one evening
before the great day I declared at a party,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 245
before two of the most matter-of-fact and
red Republican of the councillors, that if,
contrary to all expectation (for after all the
election has its whims), I was successful in
this venture, my first care, when the proper
moment arrived, would be to point out to
the commission the practical competence and
usefulness of the eminent composer as a pos-
sible member of the official jury of this body.
Then, with that gentle and self-satisfied smile
which is so eminently characteristic of such
individuals, those two guileless ones called
me a poet (which always entertains me), and
dismissed my project to the limbo of space.
So I dubbed them prosy, in order to gratify
their little vanity, and I was not at all sur-
prised to hear that it was those two members
who, if report speaks truly, influenced the
commission the next year in favour of the
musician, and had her placed upon the jury
by an enthusiastic majority. What poets
our municipal councillors are ! "
I did not see the end of this wonderful
adventure. Important family events called
me back into Brittany, at the end of 1879, as
246 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
I then thought for a short visit ; but providence
ruled otherwise, and I have never been in
Paris since, except as a casual visitor.
Thenceforward, in spite of my deep affec-
tion for Villiers, and our years of close inti-
macy, I only held rare communication with
him, with here and there a hasty meeting
rarer still. Does this imply that he was faith-
less-hearted ? No, indeed ! He had, on the
contrary, what is popularly called a heart of
gold. But in order to demonstrate his affec-
tion to you, he needed your bodily presence.
He lived so much in the far-away land of
dreams, that if you did not remind him con-
stantly and tangibly of your existence, you
came little by little to hold a vague and
shadowy place in his mind, like the sweet
and far-off memory of some loved and long-
lost friend. And this was my fate. New
elements, too, and more intimate affections,
entered into his life ; his increasing literary
reputation brought him new friendships and
new admirers, and forced him into more
regular and constant literary production. His
last years were certainly his fullest. Then
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 247
came sickness, the hospital ward, and death,
without, alas ! our having met again and re-
knitted the strands of our old friendship.
What matter ! my faith is his that if life
is hard, it is at all events short and soon we
shall meet again !
Here then end my personal reminiscences.
I owe my ability to add in one last chapter
some details of the poet's later life to the nu-
merous articles concerning him published im-
mediately after his death. Amidst these
articles, filled, many of them, with inaccuracies
and absurd apocryphal stones, there is one
which should fix the attention of all artists.
It was published by M. G. Guiches in the
" Nouvelle Revue," and has already been
often referred to in the pages of this book.
The young and subtle author (whose psycho-
logical researches have not withered up his
heart) has succeeded perfectly in fathoming the
hidden depths of the nature of the author of
"Axel." He has shown in a strikingly true
and touching way the slow metamorphosis of
that ingenuous nature, in the midst of the hypo-
crisies, the cruelties, and the villainies of life,
248 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
and he has given the most admirable and
speaking word-portrait of the poet that I am
acquainted with. I reproduce it here. When
the reader has perused it, let him turn back to
the picture at the beginning of this volume,
and the Villiers de 1'Isle Adam of 1880,
resuscitated by the magic of the pen and the
art of the graver's tool, will appear lifelike
before him. " He would raise his head,
proudly tossing back his hair with a noble
gesture, and you saw his face in all its in-
tellectual beauty. The broad forehead, lined
with parallel wrinkles, proclaimed the supreme
harmony of the mental powers which had ex-
panded it, as it were, into a superb page in the
book of art. The deep depressions on the
temples denoted the mathematical aptitude of
which he so often gave proof. The light blue
eyes bore all the external characteristics
which betoken the possession of exceptional
powers of memory, and the prominent eye-
balls, swimming in the light of his mystic
visions, or dimmed with the tears which any
religious emotion or deep artistic feeling would
bring to them, made his glance strangely
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 249
luminous. All the life of the countenance had
gathered towards and remained in the upper
part of the face the lower part was so reduced
that it seemed to disappear. The animal or
sensual characteristics of the face were ren-
dered invisible by the fact that the swelling
contour of the cheeks concealed the angle of
the jawbones, while the chin, hidden under a
Louis XIII. beard, betrayed by its smallness
his want of decision in practical matters. The
slight moustache, often twisted up a la mous-
quetaire, was out of harmony with the expres-
sion of the mouth, full of the anxiety of a
dreamer who scents danger from afar, pursued
into the excesses of his dream by the torments
of daily life, and tasting, even yet, the bitter-
ness and painful humiliation of the solicitations
which necessity had driven him to utter.
" From that mouth issued strange laugh-
ter, sometimes ingenuous, long and hearty,
sometimes short and jerky, sometimes low,
yet shrill, like the laughter of some old
savant, half-mad with learning, when he
discovers the precious meaning of some
ancient inscription, or, again, like the diabolic
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
gaiety of those old gnomes who are described
in ancient German books as inhabiting the
moss-grown belfry towers of the Father-
Closing years Birth of a son Villiers' widow Little
Totor and his father Success of the "Contes
Cruels" Appearance of "L'Eve Future" in the
" Gaulois "The " Vie Moderne "The murderous
treatment of the " Nouveau Monde " at the Theatre
des Nations The deaths of the marquis and the mar-
quise J.K.Huysmans "ARebours" His opinion
of Villiers' work " Triboulat Bonhomet " " Propos
d'au-dela " " Akedysseril " " L J Amour Supreme "
" L'Eve Future " Lectures in Belgium Return to
Paris Prosperity ' ' Histoires Insolites " " Nou-
veaux Contes Cruels" "Axel" Sickness Letter
from J. K. Huysmans, detailing the last moments
and the death of Villiers Conclusion.
HE most important event in this
part of Villiers' life is obviously
the birth of his son. The entrance
into his dreary existence of this
child, upon whom he could pour out all the
252 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
tenderness of his heart, till now jealously
treasured up, gave fresh energy and buoyancy
to the great and unhappy poet, who had ima-
gined that all earthly happiness was ended for
him. It is worthy of remark how much
Villiers' literary fertility gained in amount and
in regularity from this time. Doubtless his
paternal responsibilities obliged him for the
first time to face the realities of life in a
I never was acquainted with the person
who now bears the brilliant, if burdensome,
name of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. I know
that she was without any education, of the
humblest extraction, and I am aware that the
liaison gave rise to much calumny on the part
of the poet's enemies, and much sadness and
astonishment on that of his friends. But I
know, also, that for ten years that woman was
the brave and faithful companion of the great
artist ; that she softened the closing bitterness
of his life by her affection and devotion ;
that she shared his poverty, nursed him in
sickness, and that in bearing him a son she
gave him the one pure happiness that he ever
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 253
knew in this world. And I know, lastly, that
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, lying on his deathbed,
on the very brink of eternity, did not think
this humble companion unworthy of that
supreme act of self-sacrifice by which he gave
her the right to bear his name before God
and men. For all these reasons, the widow
of Villiers has a right to the deference of all
admirers and friends of her late husband, and
I believe I shall best show mine by wrapping
the story of this liaison, which after all con-
cerns nobody but the actors in it, in respectful
As soon as little Victor (" Totor," as he
was called in the intimacy of his family circle)
had left his first baby lispings behind him, and
was able to toddle a little, he became the con-
stant companion of his father's walks. In the
daytime one was seldom to be met without the
other, and there used to be something at once
comic and touching in Villiers' delight, asto-
nishment, and admiration over the prattlings of
his little son.
The "ContesCruels," published by Calmann
Levy, appeared in iSSi, and in spite of the in-
254 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
difference of the Parisian public to all really
artistic work, the book was too powerful and
too original not to create a certain amount of
sensation. Some of the chief critics scornfully
gave the work a few laudatory sentences, and
straightway the press followed like a flock of
sheep. So great is the power of journalism
that a few weeks made Villiers famous. He
took advantage of this revival of popularity to
place his copy in various papers and magazines,
and thus earn a little money. Meanwhile
" L'Eve Future" was nearly finished. Some
of his friends, knowing the writer's difficulties,
proposed to occupy themselves with the en-
deavour to get this, the crowning effort of his
literary life, published as a serial. Although
the idea of seeing his work cut up and served
to the public in daily slices made Villiers
shiver with horror, he accepted, driven by
hard necessity. It was the " Gaulois " which
had the idea of offering the profound and
startling work of the gifted writer as intellec-
tual food to its readers all of them habitual
admirers of Ohnet, Tarbe, and Montepin.
The issue had to be stopped at the tenth
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 255
number, for the middle-class public left off
subscribing in swarms. The disappointment
was not great to Villiers, who had always
looked upon the appearance of " L'Eve Fu-
ture " in the serial columns of the " Gaulois "
as a sort of gigantic joke. It was not till two
years later (in 1884) that his book found a
setting worthy of it in the beautiful and luxu-
riously got-up review, " La Vie Moderne,"
then published by Charpentier. Villiers even-
tually became one of the most assiduous contri-
butors to this truly artistic publication.
I will only mention in the most summary
manner the ridiculous performance of the
" Nouveau Monde," which took place at the
Theatre des Nations in 1883. There is no use
now in raking up old quarrels ; but Villiers
was cruelly played upon and shamefully de-
ceived on that occasion. He ought never to
have allowed his play to see the footlights
under conditions which made its failure a
foregone conclusion. I was not present on the
opening night. There were six performances.
Mdlle. Rousseil was simply grotesque, and I
have been assured that she acted badly on
256 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
purpose. One of my brothers was present,
one evening, at the massacre, and he told me
that the hubbub in the auditorium was deafen-
ing. Villiers led the clamour, armed with ahuge
key, on which he whistled noisy Tyrolean airs.
This remarkable historical drama, perhaps the
finest ever written on that particular subject,
still awaits the good pleasure of some intelli-
gent and artistic manager. But I hardly know
whether that rare bird exists in France.
A cruel and twofold separation, rendered,
however, less cruel by his strong religious
faith, was reserved to Villiers in the end of
1883. The two lights which had for so
many years cast a ray of warm affection over
his otherwise dreary life, went out, almost
suddenly, one after the other. The marquise
and the marquis died quietly at a few months'
interval in their little dwelling in the Avenue
Malakoff. Life had not been unfriendly to
them on the whole. The marquis till his
last hour lived in his brilliant dreams, deaf
and blind to all reality, seeing each day in
some fascinating mirage the fortune and the
glory he was to attain the next!
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 257
The illusions of the marquise were more
silent and tenderer, all concentrated as they
were on her Matthias. In her day-dreams
she saw him crowned with an aureole of
glory, and the plaudits of the newspapers
(their dagger-thrusts were always concealed
from her by his filial tenderness) beguiled till
its last throb that heart so absorbed by
maternal love. Poor Villiers wept sorely,
prayed devoutly at the bedside of his dead
parents, spent all the money he possessed
(not much, poor fellow!), in having them
fittingly buried, and then went back with
a burst of passionate tenderness to his little
It was at this moment that he gave up
living in furnished lodgings, having inherited
from the old couple their simple furniture,
amongst which survived one or two rem-
nants of former grandeur, a grand piano by
Pape, and a Louis XV. table with fine
Providence owed Villiers some compen-
sation for such bitter sorrows, borne with so
much Christian resignation ; and if the void
258 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
caused by the loss of his parents was never
entirely filled, yet some strong and con-
siderate friendships, which surrounded him
even on his deathbed, did much to lessen it.
Among these friends, none was more useful
and more congenial to him than M. J. K.
Huysmans. Until the year 1884, the two
writers had frequently met at close quarters
without making acquaintance. Each was
afraid of the other's exterior, and neither
realized their great psychological and in-
tellectual resemblance. This resemblance
was, however, not identical. For while Vil-
liers allowed his dreams to eddy at the mercy
of contrary winds across the broad sphere of
speculative thought, Huysmans, more master
of his own thoughts, and holding the reins
of his imagination even in its wildest flights,
condensed his into one of the strongest,
most original, best conceived and best exe-
cuted books of modern times. I allude to
Knowing as I did the innermost depths
of Villiers' nature, I can imagine, judging
from my own sensations, what exquisite
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 259
pleasure the perusal of this fascinating book
must have given him. I can see his blue
eyes fill with tears as he turns over those
pages instinct with living and immortal art
Such emotions are amongst the noblest and
most beautiful in life ! But that which must
have specially touched Villiers is that the
accomplished writer had devoted an impor-
tant passage in his book to the author of
" L'Eve Future." I reproduce here, shorten-
ing it a little, Huysmans' opinion of the
works of Villiers de 1'Isle Adam. But I
should state that it was formed before the
publication of his two masterpieces, " L'Eve
Future " and " Axel."
" He then turned his attention to Villiers
de 1'Isle Adam, in whose scattered works he
still noted some seditious passages, and in
which some thrills of morbid emotion still
vibrated, but which, with the exception at
least of ' Claire Lenoir,' no longer shed such
an overwhelming sense of horror on the
reader. This last story was evidently in-
spired by those of Edgar Poe, whose love of
close discussion and taste for the horrible it
260 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
reproduces. The same might be said of
' L'Intersigne,' which was later on inserted
in the ' Contes Cruels,' a collection of tales of
indisputable talent, amongst which was one,
' Vera/ which Des Esseintes [the hero of
Huysmans' book] looked upon as a master-
piece in miniature. In this last the fanciful-
ness of the story is full of an exquisite
tenderness. We no longer have the gloomy
phantoms of the American author, but a
warm, translucent, almost celestial vision, the
opposite, though in an identical style, of
Beatrice and Ligeia, those pallid spectres
raised by the inexorable nightmare of the
opium-eater. This story also treats of the
operation of the human will, but not as
to its weaknesses and failures, under the
influence of terror. It studies, on the con-
trary, its excitement under the impulse of a
conviction, developing into a fixed idea, and
demonstrates that power which succeeds even
in pervading the very atmosphere, and im-
posing its will on intangible things."
" But," he went on to say, " there exists
another side in the temperament of Villiers,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 261
far more keen and clearly-defined a side
of gloomy jesting and cruel raillery. This
gives rise, not to the paradoxical mystifi-
cations of Edgar Allan Poe, but to that sad
banter of the heavy-hearted jester in which
" One series of short pieces, ' Les Demoi-
selles de Bienfilatre,' ' L'Affichage Celeste,'
' La Machine a Gloire/ ' Le plus beau diner
du monde,' reveal a power of banter of a
singularly bitter and inventive order. All
the impurity of contemporary utilitarianism,
all the ignominy of the century, are glorified
in these works, whose pungent irony so de-
lighted Des Esseintes."
A little further on, in an anthology which
Des Esseintes has had printed for his own
use " a little chapel with Baudelaire as its
patron saint" we find the " Vox Populi" of
Villiers : " A superb coin, struck in a golden
mould, with the effigies of Leconte de L'Isle
and of Flaubert."
This great book, " A Rebours," was the
bond which united Huysmans to Villiers de
1'Isle Adam in what was to prove a lasting
262 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
friendship, the tender consideration and
manly affection of which was most beneficial
to the latter, softening to him many a blow,
many a bitterness, and many a humiliation.
If he had lived long enough it might have
given him a taste for a regular, sober, retired
and studious existence, and have drawn him
away by degrees from the terrible manner of
life which ended by consuming his strength.
But it was too late. By the time Huysmans
knew him, death had marked him for his
Villiers de 1'Isle Adam produced a great
deal between the publication of the " Nouveau
Monde" and that of " L'Eve Future" (1883
to 1886). First of all came " Triboulat Bon-
homet," the first volume of a long series he
projected, which was to relate with minute
detail all the adventures and discoveries
of the worthy doctor. This is how the
author expresses himself on the subject
in the preface placed at the head of this
"We first of all, in order to initiate the
public into the character of Doctor Bonhomet,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 263
give three tales which illustrate in a general
manner his individual peculiarities.
" Next, the doctor himself takes up his
parable and tells us the more than strange
story of ' Claire Lenoir,' the heavy responsi-
bility for which we leave entirely on his
shoulders. If, as we have some reason to
fear, this personage, whose a6lual existence
is incontestable, obtains some popularity, we
shall soon publish, not without regret, certain
anecdotes of which he is the hero, and certain
aphorisms of which he is the author."
This volume, besides " Claire Lenoir," con-
tains the admirable ironical allegory of Bon-
homet the swan-hunter, " The Paper of Dr.
Triboulat Bonhomet on the ' Utilization of
Earthquakes/ " and the " Banquet of the
"Triboulat Bonhomet" was followed by
" Propos d'au-dela" (i vol., published by
Brunhoff), and the superb prose poem,
" Akedysseril," which reproduces in realistic
fashion the dazzlingly splendid visions of the
East Indies. Then, almost simultaneously
with " L'Eve Future," another dreamy work,
264 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
full of dignity and sadness, "L'Amour Su-
preme," appeared at the same publishers,
and, in 1886, " L'Eve Future" in its final
form appeared in the booksellers' shop-fronts
garbed in a whimsical covering. Villiers
gave the key to this book when he dedicated
it " To dreamers and to scoffers." Its pages
are indeed the lists in which those two cham-
pions, fancy and irony, struggle eternally
together without either coming out the victor.
The author wrote for this book, the most im-
portant work of his literary life, a long preface,
the first part of which only was published at
the beginning of the volume. M. G. Guiches,
in the remarkable study from which I have
already frequently quoted in the course of this
work, has reproduced the original text in its
entirety. I will only cite the following frag-
ment : " I know no precedent for my book,
none like it, nor analogous to it. Whether
it arouses anger or merely meets with indiffe-
rence, I do not think it will be utterly for-
gotten, for in truth its gloomy pages do not
treat of the famous ' De omni re scibile,' but
rather of the ' et quibusdam aliis.' "
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 265
The appearance of " L'Eve Future" caused
a sort of stupor of astonishment amongst the
ranks of the critics. These gentlemen really
did not know what to say to it. It was not
like anything that was generally written,
and, besides, Villiers' reputation made them
fear some mystification. Yet it was impos-
sible to deny that this one book contained
more imagination, more scientific knowledge,
and more art than all the other works appear-
ing at the same time put together. The re-
viewers, to get out of their difficulty, launched
into vague praises or puerile jests, diluted
with sugary compliments, and all of them,
without much understanding it, acclaimed
the "incontestable intellectual superiority of
this original conception."
Villiers was forthwith consecrated a great
writer, his renown crossed the Channel, and
penetrated across the frontier, causing much
preoccupation in Belgium, that literature-
loving country, always on the watch for what-
ever succeeds in France. The following
year an association for providing courses of
lectures on different subjects, having its head-
2 66 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
quarters at Brussels, made lucrative offers to
the author of " L'Eve Future." Villiers,
although he was already sorely stricken by
the malady which was eventually to carry
him off, gladly accepted this opportunity of
publicly enunciating his ideas on men and
art. He started, and had not occasion, like
Baudelaire, to complain of his reception by
the worthy Belgians. His success was very
great. Some hasty notes, written by him to
a friend, and published by M. Guiches in the
" Nouvelle Revue," enable us to follow the
course of his triumphs. I reproduce them
here. I should add, to make matters clear,
that Villiers had left Paris just at the moment
that a new collection of his tales, " Les His-
toires Insolites," was about to appear at
" My dear M ,
" I write in great haste. I cannot
send to the 'Gil Bias' for the note till to-
morrow, as I have just come in from a lecture,
and am very tired in spite of the astonishing
success I have had.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 267
" I beg of you (in great haste, post just
going) to send out the presentation copies
with the publisher's compliments, in the
author's absence. This is constantly done.
I can yet earn 800 francs by lectures here,
so I cannot come back so soon. But I
will give up the whole of to-morrow to
drawing up notes and other matters for the
book. And I have, besides, all the proofs
of another book to correct right off.
" At least 500 copies have been sold in
advance in Belgium through my lectures,
at which I have read, or am about to read,
extracts. I go on Tuesday to Liege, then
to Antwerp, Ghent, etc., and shall be in
Paris in less than ten days. Greetings ! "
" My dear M ,
" You send me no books, and yet
you have no idea of the enthusiasm with which
I am received here, nor that two or three
hundred book-lovers are buying my works,
which, rightly or wrongly, do not seem to have
been written solely to be used for lighting
fires. The newspapers say wonderful things of
268 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
me, and I am very much pleased I am giving
le<5tures in several towns, and hope to bring
back a little money. I shall not be able to
start back till Saturday or Sunday. It can-
not be possible that the ' Histoires Insolites'
are not even stitched yet. Hearty greetings !
" P.S. I have already caught the Belgian
" My dear Friend,
" Great haste, post just off. Huge
success, five recalls, the queen, etc. Three
columns about me in every paper. I am at
the Grand Hotel, No. 147.
" Hasty greetings !
" VILLIERS DE L'!SLE ADAM.
" P.S. Send the ' Histoires Insolites' for
Thus did fortune, so long perverse towards
the poet, consent at last to shower her smiles
upon him. Alas ! she only did it to make
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 269
the final blows she was preparing to deal
him seem more cruel ! She hated this great
gentleman, this poet, who had always borne
with magnificent scorn the deepest wounds
she gave him, scarce feeling them, indeed,
thanks to that sovereign balm of fancy which
had been given to him at birth by his god-
mother, the fairy queen of the ideal. And
now, to avenge herself for all his disdain,
she was about to call the forces of agonizing
physical suffering to her aid.
Everything smiled on Villiers in that year
1888. He was free from want; he had
grown famous ; publishers received him with
a friendly smile ; he heard himself addressed
as " Master " at the evening parties at Char-
pentier's ; the smaller fry of the literary world
buzzed flatteringly around him. " Axel " (in
the "Revue Independante") was making a
great stir. His books, the " Histoires Inso-
lites " and the " Nouveaux Contes Cruels,"
were being bought. He himself was asto-
nished at the sudden reaction. And lo ! sick-
ness came upon him like a terrible, implacable
enemy, threw its arms about him, overthrew
270 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
him, cast him on his bed groaning, shivering,
lost and convulsed in agonizing suffering.
A short time before, the poor poet, weary
of Paris, and longing for green woods and
water, had retired to Nogent-sur-Marne ;
and thither death sent his pale-faced emis-
saries to take possession of him.
Another pen, reader, more worthily than
mine, will tell you how he left Nogent for
the house of the Brothers of St. Jean de
Dieu ; how his last hours passed, there,
and how he died, after accomplishing a final
sacrifice worthy of all his life. For I have
appealed to one who was the deeply-moved
witness and the chief support of Villiers' last
agony, the last to bid him farewell on the
shores of eternity, to relate in all its true
and heartbreaking details the story of the
M. Huysmans understood the motive of
my request, and he has consented, in spite of
its bitterness, to revive the memory of the
sad hours spent by that deathbed, for the
sake of paying a last homage to his friend
and comrade. Here is his letter:
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 271
"Paris, April 21, 1892.
" Dear Sir, and Brother Writer,
" You are by no means a stranger
to me. I have read your words about Vil-
liers in ' L'Hermine,' and several times, if
my memory does not deceive me, our late
friend mentioned you to me. I knew, there-
fore, that I had to do with one whose out-
ward appearance only was unfamiliar, when
Landry 1 spoke to me of the book you thought
" Villiers was very dear to me, and like
you (especially on evenings when I have had
to endure some very empty chatter) I am
haunted by the presence of him who certainly
may be bracketed with Barbey d'Aurevilly
as the two most astonishing conversationalists
of our day. I first knew him many years
ago (in 1876) at the house of Catulle Mendes,
who managed the ' Republique des Lettres,'
on which we were both writing. But our
1 M. G. Landry, head clerk to M. Savine, the book-
seller, whom I cannot sufficiently thank for the sym-
pathy, help, and information he has given me during
the writing of my book.
272 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
friendships and our tastes alike differing, we
soon drifted apart. We met again after the
publication of ' A Rebours/ and thence-
forward, far from the boulevards, our friendly
relations recommenced. He used to come
on Sundays, with his child, little Totor, to
dine with me, and these occasions were
memorable ones to those who met him. Sus-
picious, and justly on the defensive as he
generally was when he met literary people,
the hesitating mode of expression in which
he usually took refuge the moment he felt
he had let himself go too far, was laid aside
in the congenial atmosphere of faithful friend-
ship and true admiration; and, safe from
any fear of plagiarism or treachery, he would
launch out and talk about his own life, in a
fashion at once poetic and realistic, ironical
and madly gay.
" I remember, in this connection, one
1 4th of July, when he came and dined with
the father of Lucien Descaves, at Mont-
rouge. After dinner, he sat down to the
piano, and, lost in a sort of dream, he sang,
in his cracked and quavering voice, bits of
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 273
Wagner, mixed up with choruses of barrack
songs, and joining all together with strident
laughter, wild jokes, and quaint rhymes.
"But nobody ever had such a talent for
raising and transforming a joke into something
far beyond its apparent scope, and even be-
yond the widest range of possibility. There
was a punchbowl always flaming, as it were, in
his brain. How often have I seen him in the
morning, just out of bed and hardly awake,
holding forth as brilliantly as when of an
evening he would tell us astounding anec-
dotes and inimitable stories over our coffee !
" But our meetings grew rarer. Sickness
prostrated him, laid him shivering in his bed.
Weary of Paris, he settled at Nogent, and soon
grew worse. Dr. Robin recognized the symp-
toms of cancer, but disguised the truth, assert-
ing that the malady was one of the digestive
organs, and fortunately Villiers believed him.
One day that he was more suffering than
usual, the sick man complained to me about
the house he was in. It was, as a matter of
fa6t, as cold as a cellar, sunless, almost rotted
with damp. He said he would like to leave
274 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
it, and added that he needed skilful nurses to
turn and move him in his bed. I mentioned
the Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu in the Rue
Oudinot in Paris, and two days later I had a
letter from him saying he was settled in their
house, thanks to the mediation of Coppee
with the director, which obtained for him
exceptionally easy terms of admission. I
found him there delighted with the change,
convinced of his speedy recovery, full of
plans, amongst others to give up going to the
brasseries on the boulevards and to work
quietly in some corner far from the buzz of
" He who had been so unlucky and so poor
all his life was now in comparative affluence,
and no longer haunted by detestable pecuniary
anxieties. Mallarme, a very sincere and at-
tentive friend, had opened a secret subscription
for him, and I, on my part, had at my disposal
a tolerable sum which the faithful Francis
Poictevin had confided to me with the same
" Villiers began at this time to talk about
' Axel,' which was then on the stocks, and
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 275
which he desired to remodel, suppressing
some theories in it which, from the Catholic
point of view, he thought were unorthodox.
And then suddenly he grew silent. For the
first time, perhaps, in his life, that gift of fancy,
which had enabled him to forget all the end-
less sufferings of life in the fairyland of his
imagination, failed him. He beheld life as it
really is, understood that cruel reality was
about to wreak her vengeance on him, and
then his long martyrdom began.
" The digestive functions ceased to work, his
strength failed, his emaciation became frightful.
A sort of straw-coloured shadow crept over his
features, and in the wasted face the eyes lived
on, seeming to pierce the very soul of the on-
lookers with their terrifying glance. In spite
of the efforts of Madame Mery Laurent, a
friend who nursed him and petted him, bring-
ing him the most nourishing food and authentic
wines, he could not eat, and death approached
with rapid strides.
" And here must come in the sad episode
of his marriage. For reasons which he did
not disclose, Villiers hesitated, hung back,
276 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
would not answer when we spoke to him
timidly, and with much circumlocution, about
his little son, and suggested that in order
to legitimize the child he should marry the
mother, with whom he had long lived. Im-
pelled by our argument, that probably after
his death the Minister of Public Instruction
would grant a pension to the child that bore
his name, he at last consented. But when
it came to fixing the day and getting the
necessary papers together, he put us off,
raised objections, and finally shut himself
up in such obstinate silence that we had to
be silent too. The friends who were in the
habit of visiting him, Madame Mery Laurent,
Stephane Mallarme, Leon Dierx, Gustave
Guiches, and I myself, did not know what
wiles to employ to induce him to yield. He
was growing hourly weaker, and we began
to fear he would die before we could get the
documents necessary for the marriage to-
gether. Sick with anxiety, it occurred to me
one morning to apply to the almoner of the
Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu, a Franciscan
from the Holy Land, the Rev. Pere Sylvestre.
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 277
He was a gentle and compassionate monk,
who had already helped Barbey d'Aurevilly
to die. I reminded him of the lamentable
story, which he already knew, for Villiers had
confessed to him and received the communion
from his hand.
"He simply answered: 'Well, just wait
for me there. I will go up and say a word to
him.' Five minutes later, he left the sick-
room, and Villiers had consented to an imme-
" Time pressed, and it was difficult to get
hold of the certificates which were scattered
about in different registry offices. Of the few
friends who still remained faithful to him (his
cafe and newspaper acquaintances had of
course long since abandoned him), the only
ones left in Paris were Leon Dierx, who was
shut up all day in his office, Gustave Guiches,
and myself. It was summer-time. Mallarme
was ill, and had fled to the country. Madame
Mery Laurent was away taking waters.
There was a wild hunt after the necessary
documents. Guiches and M. de Malherbe (a
clerk at Quantin's bookshop, who was to be
278 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
one of the wife's witnesses) devoted themselves
to it, and between the three of us, with the
help of an employe at the Mairie of the
7th Arrondissement, M. Raoul Denieau, an
admirer of Villiers, who smoothed down many
difficulties which we should have stumbled
at, we contrived on the very day appointed
for the marriage to bring together the neces-
sary certificates. The marriage took place in
the sick-room. And here I hesitate somewhat
to reveal the whole truth. But you will make
whatever use you think right of this letter,
and you will judge whether, amongst the facls,
all of them absolutely true, which I send you,
to strengthen the authoritative accuracy of your
book, these particular ones should be given to
the public. On the whole, I think myself that
they should for the details of the suffering
of such a man as Villiers are worth learning.
" When it became necessary to sign the re-
gisters, the wife stated that she did not know
how to write. There was a terrible moment
of silence. Villiers lay in agony with his eyes
closed. Ah ! he was spared nothing. His
cup overflowed with bitterness and humilia-
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 279
tion ! And while we were all looking at each
other, almost broken-hearted, the wife added :
' I can make a cross as I did for my first
marriage.' And we took her hand and helped
her to make the mark. After the ceremony
the four witnesses, Mallarme, Dierx, M. de
Malherbe, and I, tasted a little champagne
which Villiers insisted on offering to us. Then
the Rev. Pere Sylvestre came to celebrate the
religious marriage. And then it was that we
had an opportunity of realizing the priest's
kindness of heart. Villiers' wife used to
spend the day with him. In spite of her
false position, the Brothers of St. Jean shut
their eyes to this infringement of the letter of
their rules. But of course her visits had to
end with the day ; she had to leave at twilight,
and this was a heartbreak to the unhappy
man, who dreaded dying alone in the night.
When he had pronounced the marriage bene-
diction, the Rev. Pere Sylvestre said in rather
a hurried voice, 'Although women are not
allowed to spend the night here as a rule,
I have obtained permission that now you are
married you shall not be separated again.'
28o VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
The monk had thought of giving this last
happiness to the dying man. Villiers' eyes
filled with tears ; he made a gesture, then fell
back exhausted, almost fainting from fatigue,
and we left him.
" I went to see him the next day, and all
the following days. He could no longer
speak, but would squeeze your hand gently,
and look at you with great sad patient eyes.
The evening before his death he received
the last sacrament, and lay half-conscious, his
wan face grown hollow and his throat rattling.
I felt the end was very near, but overwhelmed
as I was I had to hurry away, for it was very
late, and the convent was closing for the
" A ring at the bell early next morning
made me jump out of bed. ' Villiers is dead,'
I said to myself, and it was too true. His
wife sank sobbing into a chair in my room.
" What more shall I say ? Better say
nothing of the literary vultures who settled
on that corpse, of the reporters who used to
come daily to await his decease and place
their wares, who were now able to draw
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 281
their pay, and cease their constant calls of
" Little use either in telling you about the
funeral, at which the mourners, Mallarme,
Dierx, and I, sheltered the poor unconscious
orphan boy as best we could from the pelting
rain. And yet I will say one other word
concerning that funeral ceremony, at which
the Rev. Pere Sylvestre pronounced the
benediction, in the Church of St. Francois
Xavier. Our own resources being exhausted,
we applied, Gustave Guiches and I, to the
office of the ' Figaro,' and M. Magnard,
with a kindly courtesy which I never can
forget, offered to place at our disposal the
sum necessary to defray the expenses of the
decent burial of our friend.
" Others, my dear sir, will give you more
complete information concerning Villiers' life,
and will furnish you with the details of that
extraordinary existence, starving, forlorn,
penniless, and clouded by troubles so great
as to make his condition at times without
parallel in its misery. I have confined my-
self to those sad incidents which immediately
282 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
preceded his death, and, as you have narrated
the beginning of his life, so I relate to you
"In conclusion, dear sir, I have to wish
your book good luck, and I do it with all my
heart. May your work kindle some spark of
regret for its own injustice in that public
which so resolutely refused to acknowledge
the talent of Villiers before his death.
"Believe me, etc.,
"J. K. HUYSMANS."
The next day, Tuesday, 2oth August, 1889,
a few hours before the burial, M. Henri de
Lavedan, a young writer whom Villiers de
1'Isle Adam had inspired with one of those
enthusiastic attachments which he alone could
create, asked permission to gaze once more
on the features of the dead man who had
been so dear to him, and prayed long in the
quiet little room. I desire to place here, as
the conclusion of the work in which I have
endeavoured to outline the life of that great
believer and great artist, the Comte Philippe
Auguste Matthias de Villiers de 1'Isle Adam,
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 283
these lines instinct with deep and sincere
feeling, which were written immediately after
this farewell visit :
" On an August morning, wet and dreary
as a November evening, in the house of
the Brothers of St. Jean de Dieu, which stands
in the quiet quarter of the ' Invalides,' the
brown-robed monk gently closed the door
behind me, and I saw before me Villiers de
1'Isle Adam lying on his deathbed. We are
alone together, he and I. The little room is
very quiet, clean with the cleanliness of the
cloister and the death-chamber coldly calm.
On the chimney-piece the flame of the candles
burns high and motionless, undisturbed by any
breath of air ; and the half-closed eyes of the
gifted scoffer who shall scoff no more, gazing
lifelessly at the coffin waiting on the floor,
seem to contemplate it as though it were a
friend. I kneel on a prie-dieu, and gaze
on the face of the master I have known
and loved. The narrow bed on which he
died is all too wide for his poor body, ema-
ciated by long and cruel suffering. But the
284 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
proud and beautiful head, whose great fore-
head seems to have been carved out by death
for posterity in the firmest and whitest of
marbles, stands out with a royal dignity.
Sightless and voiceless as it is, bereft of
thought, of everything that made it glorious,
that splendid head still seems to fill the room.
It seems to be the head of him who Villiers
would have been, had he lived, and fought,
and sung, in one of those ages of faith which
he loved, and loved with the bitter love of the
exile. It was as solemnly beautiful under the
shadow of those cotton curtains, as it would
have been under a gold-fringed dais, and I
could have fancied I beheld the corpse of one
of his ancestors, a Villiers de 1'Isle Adam of
the crusading times, who, worn out by fever,
fatigue, long marches, wounds, and thirst, had
at last, on some burning shore of Palestine,
rendered up his gallant soul to God who
" Visions and beliefs. These were the
whole of Villiers' being. As I looked at
him lying there with a poor rosary in his
folded hands, his whole frame stretched out
VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM. 285
with a tired air (betokening as much weari-
ness as resignation), I could not but remember
that he was a steadfast Christian, believing,
and practising what he believed. It was his
faith alone which kept him straight to the
end of the book of his life, to the last line,
and to his last breath, without a blot on the
escutcheon which descends to his son as stain-
less as he inherited it from his own father.
"And I imagine that the severe and noble
expression on the calm features of this Chris-
tian man of letters comes of the joy of feeling
he is free, delivered at last from this life of
emptiness, of folly, of many pangs, which
brought him nothing, neither health, nor
wealth, nor love, nor glory.
" Death did not come upon Villiers un-
awares ; he watched its slow approach with
perfect calmness. He bore the Cross of Malta ;
he was well prepared to meet the King of
Terrors, and when he drew near and stood
before him, he received the accolade fearlessly,
like a soldier and a gentleman, hoping perhaps
that his reward was beginning. He knew, in
his humble trust, that the hour had come for
286 VILLIERS DE L'ISLE ADAM.
his own judgment on high, for that of his
work here below, and doubtless he repeated
mentally that motto of Hassan-ben-Sabbah
which he placed at the head of his own poem,
' Azrael ' ' O Death ! those who are about to
live salute thee ! ' "
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THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
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CHARLES GODFREY LELAND, M.A., F.R.L.S.
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